For many years, doctors were afraid to offer anything that resembled an apology for a mistake – whether it was a failure to diagnose a condition sooner, a treatment that only made a patient worse or a surgical error. That’s because they feared that even an expression of sympathy that wasn’t an outright apology could be used against them in a malpractice suit.
However, studies have shown that patients who receive apologies are often less likely to bring a legal action against a doctor (as least for non-surgical errors). Further, doctors feel better because most genuinely do want to help people and feel bad when something goes awry.
Lawmakers have gradually started to recognize that. That’s why many states, including Georgia, have some form of “apology law” that limits how much – if any – an apology can be used legally against a doctor.
Georgia is among the states that offer complete protection for doctors and other medical providers who apologize for an unexpected outcome. Their apologies or any other expression of sympathy or compassion are inadmissible as evidence of fault. (In some states, an admission of fault can be used as evidence, but not a more generic apology for a patient’s pain or suffering.)
Doctors can still be held liable for malpractice
Georgia law certainly doesn’t prevent doctors and other health care professionals from being held liable for their mistakes or negligence. Likely, there’s other evidence besides anything they might say to the patient or their family in apologizing to prove that. Any information they provide in their apology can certainly be used to investigate further into what happened.
An apology for a relatively minor error that can be fixed can go a long way. However, in cases where a medical error was egregious or caused considerable harm or even death, no apology can make things right. A medical malpractice suit can provide compensation and some sense of justice and potentially help save others from a similar error. If you believe you have grounds for a claim, it’s wise to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.