Can A Simple Apology Prevent a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Michigan Trial Lawyer Jeff Appel pointed me to an interesting article the other day. The article, entitled "Doctors Start to Say 'I'm Sorry' Long Before 'See You in Court'" suggests that Medical Malpractice lawsuits are, in part, fueled by the refusal of doctors to admit they were wrong and their further reluctance to apologize for their mistakes.
One of the first medical providers to experiment with this "full disclosure" approach was the University of Michigan Health System, which saw Medical Malpractice lawsuits and claims drop from 262 in 2001 to only 83 in 2007. By promptly disclosing errors, then apologizing and offering fair compensation to victims, some prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford are hoping to disarm victims and restore integrity to patient-hospital relations in medical mistake situations. The hope is that the anger that fuels contentious lawsuits will be diluted and the number of court filed Medical Malpractice lawsuits will decline. According to the above cited statistic, the approach is working.
Medical Malpractice trial lawyers say "that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again", according to the article. Hospitals are reporting decreased medical malpractice caseloads, legal cost savings and declining Medical Malpractice premiums, partially as a result of these new policies of full disclosure and apology.
According to the article, recent studies have found that one of every 100 hospital patients experiences negligent treatment, and that as many as 98,000 die each year as a result. But studies also show that as few as 30 percent of medical errors are disclosed to patients. Further, only a small fraction of injured patients, perhaps 2 percent, pursue medical mistakes by filing a Medical Malpractice lawsuit or claim. Perhaps these new policies will result in even further litigation reductions.
Plaintiff’s lawyers have long recognized that clients benefit from prompt compensation, even if it means a smaller settlement. In Michigan where I practiced law and where I currently operate the State's most popular lawsuit financing company, the University of Michigan's full disclosure policy has resulted in prompt and fair settlements for "real negligence". My friend and colleague, Norm Tucker, a Medical Malpractice trial lawyer with the prominent Southfield, Michigan lawfirm, Sommers Schwartz PC, is quoted in the article: "The filing of a lawsuit at the University of Michigan is now the last option, whereas with other hospitals it tends to be the first and only option. We might give cases a second look before filing because if it’s not going to settle quickly, tighten up your cinch. It’s probably going to be a long ride.”
So why are Medical Malpractice premiums so high? Instead of blaming the trial lawyers, perhaps physicians ought to be changing their disclosure policies and/or demanding statisics from Medical Malpractice insurance carriers.
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