Saying sorry...legally
When I used to work at Burger King, one of the first things I was taught in training was to never apologize after any sort of accident. Those simple words, "I'm sorry" which come almost automatically when something bad happens can mean a world of trouble for a corporation should a law suit be filed. "I'm sorry" is viewed in court as an admission of guilt.

The same is true in the medical profession, which seems unimaginable to me. Before my baby was born, I stumbled across a few blog entries about late-term miscarriages or infants who had died. The comment section was naturally filled with condolences which often began, "I am so sorry..." It is how we express sympathy and compassion for others who are suffering. No sane person would think that any of the commenters were in any way to blame for what happened because they said, "I'm sorry."

Unless you are the doctor. And expressing sentiments of regret to your patient when you just lost their child, or have to tell him or her that something went horribly wrong can end in a malpractice suit. Last year, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine began a project to study ways to improve communication and compassion between doctors and their patients. It sounded interesting, but I cannot help but think that both might be improved if doctors were not forced by our litigious society to view every patient as a potential law suit.

Things may change here in Nebraska, and this is one bill before the unicameral that I support. Legislative Bill 373 (pdf) begins:
In any civil action brought by an alleged victim of an unanticipated outcome of medical care, or in any arbitration proceeding related to such civil action, any and all statements, affirmations, gestures, or conduct expressing apology, fault, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, or a general sense of benevolence which are made by a health care provider or an employee of a health care provider to the alleged victim, a relative of the alleged victim, or a representative of the alleged victim and which relate to the discomfort, pain, suffering, injury or death of the alleged victim as a result of the unanticipated outcome of medical care shall be inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability or as evidence of an admission against interest.
Maybe I'm just weird, but if something had gone wrong in the delivery room, I would not have wanted my obstetrician to stand by silently. "I'm sorry..." may not do anything, really, but it is an automatic and universally accepted gesture of sympathy at the suffering of another human being. It should not cause a compassionate practitioner to face a conviction in a malpractice suit.

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