An apology works in medical malpractice claims in 35 states. In fact, the “Sorry Works” program has been put into legislation in 35 states. Unfortunately, New Mexico is not among them. Instead, New Mexico often takes same hard-line on medical malpractice against its states facilities and other medical providers. It is not quite as harsh as the no settlement policy that former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez took in police misconduct cases. But it is equally costly to the state.
The power of an apology in medical malpractice claims, the foundation of the “Sorry Works” program, is illustrated by the recent settlement of a lawsuit filed against Rhode Island hospital by Oscar-nominated actor James Woods for the wrongful death of his brother. Of course, the apology came in the 4th week of trial. But when it came, the case quickly settled. The hospital finally apologized, acknowledged its wrongdoing, and agreed to start an institute in the name of the famed actor‘s brother. The institute will of all things work toward the prevention of human errors in hospital care.
In addition to the apology, the Woods family received an undisclosed financial settlement. Michael Woods died of a heart attack at 49 years old after going to the ER for a sore throat and vomiting. The Woods family claimed the hospital did not provide adequate or sufficient care to prevent his avoidable death.
Interestingly, Rhode Island is not among the states that have adopted “Sorry Works” legislation. Perhaps had they adopted the legislation, the apology would have come much sooner avoiding the costs and hardship associated with litigation on both the Woods family as well as the doctors and staff of the hospital. After all, Mr. Woods died in 2006. Did the hospital administrators really just now discover in a moment of enlightenment that their doctors and staff had done something wrong? And to boot, decide that they would create an institute toward avoiding errors similar to those newly discovered errors in flash of enlightenment? It‘s not likely. Instead, they likely saw the trial headed south, and they wanted to avoid a catastrophic verdict. The Woods lawyers likely understood this as well. Yet the apology still brought a quick resolution to the case.
The “Sorry Works” movement has grown rapidly over recent years. The program recognizes that often what a family or victim needs most is recognition of their injuries and acknowledgement of a wrong committed, along with fair compensation for their injuries. This means acceptance of responsibility and liability for the negligent actions and the damages they cause. Instead, many hospitals and doctors take the opposite approach much like Albuquerque‘s mayor which is to admit no wrong, and settle nothing without a fight.
Where there is truly wrongdoing and injury, this approach is devastating to the victim and financially disastrous for the state‘s medical providers as they end up paying in the end. The only beneficiaries of this approach are the defense attorneys who feed at the trough of governmental legal defense.