Thursday, November 11, 2004

Hey...Say You're Sorry 

This is priceless.

There is some evidence to suggest that doctors who commit malpractice might avoid suit simply by telling the whole story and apologizing for any mistakes made.

The hospitals in the University of Michigan Health System have been encouraging doctors since 2002 to apologize for mistakes. The system's annual attorney fees have since dropped from $3 million to $1 million, and malpractice lawsuits and notices of intent to sue have fallen from 262 filed in 2001 to about 130 per year, said Rick Boothman, a former trial attorney who launched the practice there.
Now that's what I call tort reform!

One doctor's experience sheds some light on the problem:
Woods said he wanted to apologize, but legal advisers recommended breaking off contact with the patient when she threatened to sue.
The adversarial system should be adversarial in the courtroom, but shouldn't extend beyond the litigation itself. I can only assume that an apology would only issue if the doctor actually felt at fault. With this premise in place, the fact that lawyers would tell doctors to withhold apology is a little disturbing. I understand the reason for the tactic, but I don't think it's right (morally, not legally).

My point is made better by the apology-encouraging lawyer mentioned in the quotation above:
"Not only was it the right thing to do, but over the long haul, we were saving money by doing things this way," he said.
My point is that it is the right thing to do, but if the right thing is also the financially prudent thing, then perhaps it should be done.

I think if we can limit how adversarial our system is, and save the head-butting for litigation, perhaps arbitrarily capping awards can be avoided. It's a partial fix to the problem of a costly tort system that has the added benefit of being the morally right thing to do. Everybody wins.


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