Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett this week signed a bill that allows doctors to apologize for medical mistakes without fear that the apology will be part of a medical malpractice lawsuit.
But while the apology will be protected, any admission of negligence by the doctor will not be, so patients can still present that evidence to a jury.
More than half of states have this kind of law. Critics say there’s too much grey area between apologies and admissions of neglect.
Bioethicist Art Caplan says he is a “strong supporter” of such laws.
“Having an apology when an error or mistake takes place is something that patients and their families deserve,” Caplan told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “Mistakes are going to happen, they do. And I think people need to hear regret …. [Doctors and nurses] are not going to do it if they are worried about lawsuits.”
Caplan says that these laws do not excuse doctors for medical negligence or malpractice, but malpractice lawyers argue there is too much of a grey area between an apology and an admission of neglect.
“It doesn’t prohibit lawsuits, it just says you can talk about regret, you can talk about your feelings, without having that held against you or being the trigger to your lawsuit,” Caplan said. “I think many of these apologies are absolutely sincere, absolutely not done to deflect a lawsuit. It’s because people really do feel bad, and I think they really ought to get that chance.”
- Art Caplan, bioethicist and founding head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. He tweets @ArthurCaplan.