A new study to be published in the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty claims to find that "apology laws," which are meant to lower the burden of malpractice suits, are doing their job.
Apology laws bar litigants from using a doctor's apology after an error as evidence of guilt. Massachusetts was the first state to adopt such a law and 35 other states have subsequently adopted similar laws by 2009. New York is not among them. The logic behind the law is simple. Without its protection, doctors cannot apologize for fear of legal retribution. But if they do not apologize, then that shows a lack of remorse, which is often grounds for suit.
The study combed 225,000 malpractice awards between 1991 and 2009. Apology law states settled serious injury cases 20% fast than other states. Payments in apology law states also showed a decrease of 14-17% for serious injuries. Moderately severe injuries held similar figures, while minor injuries did not generate a statistically significant result. Interestingly, apology law states also saw an uptick in the number of lawsuits, but the authors of the study attributed this to a temporary increase in the settlement of old cases.
The study is titled, "Does Sorry Work? The Impact of Apology Laws on Medical Malpractice," and is written by Elaine Liu of the University of Houston, with Benjamin Ho of Cornell University.
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