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Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro
Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro
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Doctor apologies prevent lawsuits for medical malpractice

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New Virginia (VA) law allows doctors and hospitals to apologize to the people they hurt by medical errors and not have it used against them in court. This law was part of a compromise worked out between doctors and lawyers in a recent Legislative Session.

Getting this law passed was a smart play by the medical malpractice insurance lobby. Allowing the doctors to do an early apology may prevent them from being sued even when they made a clear error causing serious injury.

In our firm’s decades of helping families who have been harmed by surgical or medical mistakes, we have found that often the bedside manner of the healthcare provider makes a big difference. Frequently a reason that the client has contacted a law firm about medical malpractice is not being treated well by the doctors. If someone had simply been outwardly caring, many times the patient would not contact a personal injury lawyer at all. Sometimes, it is the bad bedside manner that causes the patient to call us, even when there was a catastrophic injury caused by a clear violation of the medical standard of care. These patients are more upset by how they were treated, than what has happened to them from the standpoint of the medical result.

I agree with the idea of the new law which is to have surgeons and hospitals be able to admit an error and take responsibility without having that used against them in the lawsuit. This might cut down on the anger that leads to prolonged litigation. However, what would be even smarter would be for the risk managers at the hospitals and the doctor’s insurance companies to also follow up with concept called “full disclosure/early offer”. Under this method of handling medical mistakes, the meritorious claims will be dealt with promptly. The doctor and the health care providers would be in a position to be able to be honest and frank about what had happened in the treatment. In health care systems where this is being used, the Plaintiff’s attorneys handling medical malpractice cases have been receptive. Things can be worked out by having two professionals sitting across the table discussing a claim it without all the expense and drama associated with full blown litigation.

Such a system is a far cry from what normally happens in Virginia (VA). Typically in Virginia (VA) any medical malpractice case has got to be fully litigated the insurance companies, before the doctors will take the case seriously. As Plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers, we typically have to hire numerous expensive experts to prove what the doctor did wrong and how that caused a serious and permanent injury to the client. Only once we have shown our cards and have this proof in hand will the insurance companies handling the medical malpractice claim even discuss settlement. Unlike an automobile accident claim where the vast majority of cases are resolved without the need for litigation, medical malpractice cases in Virginia (VA) typically are hard fought, knock down, drag out battles. I think our medical malpractice clients would be very receptive to a more human and civilized method of resolving these conflicts. I hope that this new concept catches on. Some of the best healthcare systems in the world, including John’s Hopkins Medical in Maryland (MD), are trying this approach.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.