In the not-so-distant past, doctors were afraid to apologize to patients and family when something went wrong – even if they weren’t to blame. Some even hesitated to express any amount of sympathy for a bad or unexpected outcome. Often this was because they feared being the subject of a medical malpractice suit.
This kind of fear to make even the most basic expression of sympathy can harm doctor-patient relationships. It can even make people more likely to take legal action for error or negligence that didn’t cause long-term, serious harm because they may feel like a doctor didn’t care about them.
Many states, including Oregon, have enacted “apology laws” that provide some level of immunity for doctors and other medical professionals from having their expressions of regret – and in some cases outright apologies – used against them in a malpractice case.
Oregon’s “Expression of regret or apology” law
Oregon’s law states, “For the purposes of any civil action against a person licensed by the Oregon Medical Board or a health care institution, health care facility or other entity that employs the person or grants the person privileges…an expression of regret or apology that is made in writing, orally or by conduct, does not constitute an admission of liability.”
Other evidence can be used in a malpractice case
This law doesn’t allow a doctor to escape liability simply by apologizing or expressing regret for an error. In fact, an apology can often help lead to evidence, such as medical records, eyewitness testimony and more that can be used to build a solid case.
This is why it’s wise for patients and their loved ones to listen carefully, ask questions and take notes – no matter how angry and upset you might understandably be. It’s also wise to get to that evidence as soon as possible before it disappears and to talk with witnesses before they “forget” what they saw. That’s why getting experienced legal guidance as soon as possible is crucial to holding medical professionals and facilities liable for errors and negligence.