Ohio is moving to become the latest state to strengthen it’s “I’m sorry” laws, which would prevent evidence regarding admissions of fault made by doctors from being used by families in medical malpractice lawsuits seeking financial compensation for injuries or deaths caused by the error.
About 40 states already have some form of law on the books that prevents the use of doctors’ apologies in court, including Ohio. However, a proposal currently pending in the Ohio General Assembly, as well as a bill pending in Congress, seek to go further.
The proposed expansion of Ohio’s “I’m sorry” law would not only protect general apologies, but also admissions of guilt and negligence made to families, preventing the statements from being used against the doctor in any subsequent lawsuits filed.
Proponents of the legislation suggest that it will reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed by families seeking answers about the death of a loved one, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The bill is designed to allow doctors to feel comfortable apologizing for harmful medical mistakes, knowing that the statements will not be later used against them. Advocates for the expansion of the current law indicate that the change is needed to allow doctors to better communicate with the family and more easily satisfy many of the open questions that could lead the family to contact a medical malpractice lawyer.
However, a multistate analysis conducted last year found that there is no clear evidence that “I’m Sorry” laws are having any impact on medical malpractice lawsuits.
Critics of expansion of the Ohio law indicate that it will provide an invitation for doctors to perjure themselves at trial, allowing doctors and their insurers to deny that medical mistakes were made at trial, even after telling the family that errors caused an injury or death. Opponents suggest that information about recognized mistakes should be outlined in medical records.
Doctors are already required to inform patients of medical mistakes that caused harm. In 2010, the American Medical Association (AMA) Counsel on Ethical and Judicial Affairs’ code of ethics stated that doctors are “ethically required to inform the patient of all the facts necessary to ensure understanding of what has occurred.” The AMA considers facts about medical mistakes, complications or adverse events to be included in that information.