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Is a doctor's apology admissible in a malpractice case?

In the legal system, even the simplest of issues can become complicated in some cases. This is because a seemingly minor detail can have major legal significance, whether Pottsville residents realize it or not.

For instance, last week this blog discussed the frustration many patients have when their doctors refuse to apologize after a medical error occurs. Often times, doctors do not want to apologize because they may believe the apology can be used against them in a later medical malpractice case.

In order to address this situation, many states around the country have enacted laws encouraging physicians to apologize for medical errors. Pennsylvania is among these states, as it enacted a statute known as the Benevolent Gesture Medical Professional Liability Act.

The Act makes so-called benevolent gestures, such as apologies, inadmissible as evidence of liability in a medical malpractice action. In other words, if a doctor apologizes for causing a mistake, that apology typically cannot be used as evidence against the doctor in a later lawsuit.

However, there are limits to this rule. Under the statute, statements of negligence or fault relating to an accident are not covered by the statute. Accordingly, a doctor who admits to being negligent cannot prevent those statements from coming into evidence in the case under the statute. These distinctions are thus very important, as the difference between a basic apology and a statement regarding negligence can make all the difference in the case in terms of whether the statement is admissible as evidence. This, in turn, can make an impact on whether the judge or jury finds the doctor negligent for the medical error.

Source: Pennsylvania General Assembly, "Benevolent Gesture Medical Professional Liability Act," accessed on April 2, 2016

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