When something goes wrong with a patient’s procedure or treatment, a doctor’s first instinct is often to express regret and to apologize for their added suffering – whether they were directly involved in what went wrong or not.
Unfortunately, that instinct is often quickly followed by another one that keeps them from doing something that will make everyone feel a bit better. That second instinct is to not express remorse in any way for fear their words will be used against them – in a malpractice suit.
Patients, families and doctors feel better when doctors can apologize
In fact, studies have found that when doctors apologize for mistakes, they generally lessen the odds that they’ll be hit with a malpractice suit. Obviously, this applies more to mistakes that can be fixed than to egregious errors that cause permanent harm or death. However, patients and families typically feel better when someone acknowledges their mistake and shows some compassion.
That’s why a number of states, including Florida, have enacted what are commonly known as apology laws. These laws vary by state, but they generally allow doctors to express some form of remorse for what a patient is going through without that basic act of compassion being used as evidence of wrongdoing.
What does Florida law say?
Under Florida law, “statements, writings, or benevolent gestures expressing sympathy or a general sense of benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a person…shall be inadmissible as evidence in a civil action.” The law goes on to say, however, that a “statement of fault” made as part of those expressions or separately is admissible.
If you’re facing a malpractice action or are concerned that you may be facing one, it’s imperative to know which of your words can and cannot be used against you. The sooner you seek legal guidance, the better you’ll be able to deal with it.