Maryland "apology" laws and medical malpractice

An apology law in Maryland enables physicians to apologize for a situation without that apology being used as evidence in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Many states across the country, including Maryland, have passed so-called "apology" laws that enable physicians and other medical professionals to express regret about a situation without that apology being admissible during a malpractice trial. Initially, these laws were passed with the intention of reducing the cost of malpractice lawsuits for defendants or the number of claims filed.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states as well as Washington, D.C., have these apology laws in place. However, a recent study suggests that the laws do not actually decrease the risk of being held responsible for a medical mistake.

The study

The study, which comes from researchers at Vanderbilt University, was published at the end of 2016. In it, the study's authors reviewed 3,517 claims of medical negligence that were filed between 2004 and 2011, when these apology laws were being passed across the country. While they did not know whether or not the physicians in these claims ever apologized, what they did find was the following:

· In 65.4 percent of the claims, they parties went to litigation.

· Of those, 51.4 percent of defendants owed the claimant money.

· Of the cases that were settled outside of court, 7.1 percent ended with the claimant receiving money.

More importantly, the researchers compared lawsuits in states with and without apology laws. The results indicate that there is no statistically significant difference in the amount of claims filed.

Why the laws?

Generally, medical staff members are advised against making any type of apologetic statement to a patient or the family. Advocates of apology laws say they open the lines of communication between medical professionals and patients. The Vanderbilt University study even notes that past studies have shown that patients are less angry when a doctor apologizes and explains what happens. However, opponents say they fear that an apology is the first indication that there was a medical mistake, thus provoking patients to file a lawsuit.

Maryland's law specifically states that any expression of regret that a medical professional makes - whether it be in person, in writing or by some type of conduct - is inadmissible in a lawsuit. However, if the professional makes an admission of liability or fault, a plaintiff may be able to use it in court.

While it is a good idea to understand the law in Maryland, it should have no bearing on how a patient who has suffered harm at the hands of a medical professional or facility pursues compensation. The state allows plaintiffs to file a claim within the earlier of either three years from the time the injury was discovered or five years from the date of the actual incident.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Maryland.