Many patients and families wait for an apology from a doctor for a mistake, but it never comes. In some cases, that’s because the doctor fears that even a simple “I’m sorry” will be used as evidence in a malpractice case.
However, a simple apology can make everyone feel better. If the mistake is relatively minor and ultimately reparable, patients have been found to be less likely to take legal action.
This is why most states have enacted laws that protect doctors’ expressions of sympathy – and in some cases, actual admissions of errors — from being used against them.
How does Missouri law treat apologies?
Missouri is one of the states that has offered some protection to doctors, but not complete protection, from their own words being used as evidence. Patients can use a doctor’s admission of fault against them, but not a more generic expression of sympathy.
Specifically, the law states, “The portion of statements, writings, or benevolent gestures expressing sympathy or a general sense of benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a person and made to that person or to the family of that person shall be inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability in a civil action. However, nothing in this section shall prohibit admission of a statement of fault.”
This is why it’s important for patients and their family to pay careful attention to anything the medical team tells you. Ask them to slow down and explain words you don’t understand if necessary. Take notes. Save all notes the doctor has written on your record. If you believe you may have a medical malpractice case against a physician or other health care provider, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to help you seek justice and compensation.