Does the “Sorry Works” Legislation Work?
You probably have heard of “Sorry Works” legislation by now in reference to medical malpractice. It has been floating around legislative assemblies with some notoriety since 2005 in an effort to help reduce the cost of medical liability insurance for physicians. Also known as “apology laws,” the Sorry Works legislation has been introduced to salve relations between doctors and patients in the event of a perceived malpractice incident in hopes of hampering medical malpractice lawsuits bolstered by bad communication and anger after an adverse event.
In states that do not have “Sorry Works” legislation, if a medical incident happens that facilitates a potential malpractice claim, doctors are warned by legal counsel not to say “I am sorry.” This simple and heartfelt sign of sympathy can be misconstrued as an admission of guilt and is legally admissible in a malpractice proceeding. This legal sand-trap eventually gave way to varying degrees of justifiable self-preservative actions by doctors who were concerned that this legitimate sympathy could severely hamper their practice in the future due to a successful suit brought by a plaintiff. Consequently, as doctors would distance themselves from patients for legal protection, many patients who had suffered an adverse occurrence felt ignored or “kept in the dark” during a very unsettling time when they knew something, medically speaking, was amiss. This frustration and anger felt by the patient added “fuel to the fire” and served as additional motivation to lawyer up and bring a suit.
Eventually, the “Sorry Works” legislation was brought forth to allow a doctor to say “I am sorry” and to show a measured sympathy towards a patient following a potential malpractice occurrence without implicating himself. In a legal sense, the doctor can express his sympathy for a patient’s current predicament without that sympathy being translated into a confession in court. This legislation is designed to promote communication between doctors and patients after an occurrence and, more importantly to calm a patient who has suffered a medical incident without implicating a doctor in hopes that the communication and displayed caring attitude will help avert claims.
This legislation has been in effect for several years in many parts of the country and studies regarding its effectiveness in lowering the frequency and severity of medical malpractice claims are surfacing, and for the first time allowing us to glimpse at the results of this initiative.
While the medical malpractice insurance field is full of complex variables from which no statistician could ever fully divorce all other tort reform programs from Sorry Works, the vast majority of the research shows a decline in the frequency of claims as well as a small decrease in severity. Undoubtedly, as more states adopt this legislation and more time passes, the depth of the positive impact of this initiative will be more clearly revealed.