A recent story from the Associated Press notes how the University of Michigan Health System has adopted a policy of admitting mistakes and offering compensation to victims of medical malpractice before patients retain a medical malpractice lawyer and files a lawsuit. In theory, this policy sounds great. The story quotes the hospital’s chief risk officer and veteran malpractice defense lawyer as saying, “What we are doing is common decency.” Well, now you’re pushing it.
No one can disagree that when one makes a mistake, including medical negligence, it helps to receive a sincere apology for the mistake. However, the decision to admit to medical mistakes is a business decision, not an altruistic decision. Indeed, the article notes that since adopting this “sorry” policy, malpractice claims against the University of Michigan Health System dropped in half from 2001 to 2006. Further, costs per claim were also reduced 50 percent, and insurance reserves dropped by two-thirds. This apology approach to medical malpractice has the strongest support from the insurance companies.
The problem with this approach is that those who are most seriously injured as a result of medical malpractice and those who are most vulnerable — children, elderly, the poor — do not know what their legal rights are when they decide to settle their claim (and waive their rights to ever file a lawsuit) after accepting “apology money.” The fact that the medical professionals have apologized, and the hospital is willing to offer money at the outset, suggest that the injured person (and his or her family) is legally entitled to be compensated for that injury.
No doubt that the hospital’s offer to settle the claim will not fully compensate the injured person to the full extent of the law. Especially in situations where the injury is significant and permanent, the victims will not be an a position to grasp the full impact of the malpractice on his or her life into the future. Those injured in medical malpractice claims should be compensated for past, present and future medical expenses, as well as past, present and future wage loss, emotional and physical pain and suffering, and loss of normal life or disability. The apology approach to medical negligence is a way to save insurance companies money at the expense of those victims most in need of help.
Public studies show that although approximately 181,000 people are seriously injured or killed each year as a result of medical malpractice in the United States, only 30,000 (16 percent) file medical malpractice lawsuits. Top medical malpractice lawyers suggest that the right of injured patients to sue doctors and hospitals for medical mistakes, and question them in public civil justice proceedings, is critical to reduce future medical mistakes and improve overall care.
This apology approach to medical malpractice sounds better in theory than it does in practice. Only after consulting with an experienced medical negligence lawyer, and having your medical records reviewed by a top, independent medical consultant, will you truly appreciate the value of your case under the law. For a free consultation with a top Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500.