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Michigan Apology Laws and Medical Malpractice

March 10, 2023

“It’s always too late for sorries, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

British Author Neil Gaiman wrote that in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a 2013 novel. And while “sorry” may not do much in some situations, it may have an impact on a patient who’s been injured by medical malpractice.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice or medical negligence happens when a physician, nurse, or other health care professional… or a hospital or other health care facility fails to care for someone in accordance with the accepted medical standards and the patient is injured, becomes ill, or a condition or illness becomes as a result of their actions.

After a medical error occurs, a physician has a decision to make. He or she can (i) disclose the error and apologize; or (ii) remain silent.

Usually, medical malpractice defense attorneys and insurance companies tell doctors to refrain from disclosing errors. But in the medical profession in the past 20 years or so, there has been some movement for transparency. Some healthcare organizations have done the following:

  • Adopted disclosure policies;
  • Provided training on how to speak with patients after an error has been made; and
  • Built communication and resolution programs (CRP).

CRP programs are designed to make certain that full disclosure and apologies are given to patients after adverse event investigations. The motivating factors for these changes include:

  • Meeting ethical obligations;
  • Promoting greater patient trust; and
  • Fostering patient safety.

The University of Michigan Health System’s disclosure program experienced a decrease in the number of malpractice claims, from an estimated monthly rate of 7.03 per 100,000 patients in 2001 (i.e., at the start of program implementation) to 4.52 per 100,000 patients in 2007 (i.e., at the end date of data collection).

They also saw a decreased average cost per lawsuit from $405,921 to $228,308, and an expedited claim resolution process in this time period.

What are the Risks of Saying “I’m Sorry”?

The American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics, which sets forth standards of professional conduct, says that when a patient suffers significant medical complications that may have resulted from the doctor’s mistake or judgment, he or she is ethically mandated to disclose all the facts required to ensure the patient’s understanding of what has happened.

The guidelines go on to say that a healthcare professional’s concern about legal liability that might result from full disclosure shouldn’t impact his or her decision to speak candidly and truthfully with a patient.

What is Michigan’s “I’m Sorry” Law?

Michigan’s “I’m Sorry” bill was signed into law in April of 2011. Our apology law states that the apology itself or any other expression of sympathy or compassion may not be used as an admission of liability. As a result, if a doctor says he or she is sorry for a patient’s pain or suffering, it can’t be used as evidence in a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, Michigan’s apology law does not apply to any statement that would concern culpability or fault.

Many healthcare providers, such as the University of Michigan Health System, the Michigan State Medical Society, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association came out in support of the law when it was being considered in the state legislature.

A doctor’s apology does not fix the mistake he or she made. Compensation may not reverse the damage that has been done; however, it may at least defray the expenses a patient and his or her family has incurred as a result of the physician’s error.

Remember that Michigan patients have two years from the date of the medical mistake to start a medical malpractice or negligence action, or within six months of discovering the issue.

Contact an Experienced Michigan Medical Negligence Attorney

An experienced Michigan medical negligence attorney should always be consulted to review a doctor’s apology and any offer of compensation.

If you or someone you know has recently suffered an injury that may be medical negligence resulting in injury or death, speak with an experienced and knowledgeable medical negligence attorney immediately to protect your interests or those of your loved one.

Buchanan Firm has medical professionals who are available to immediately investigate your claim to determine if the deviation was caused by medical negligence.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate