Washington, D.C. – On the advice of their attorneys and malpractice insurance company executives, doctors are now stepping forward and admitting their mistakes, hoping that a sincere apology and a couple of bucks will make multi-million dollar malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits magically disappear. “Folks who have erroneously lost an arm or a leg, or even a kidney because of a mix-up in charts know that they can’t grow those things back and they can’t buy a new limb or organ—they just want someone to own up to the mistake and say, ‘look, I’m human, I’ve erred,’ said Joe Shnuck, Chief Surgeon at Washington General Hospital.
The plan, nicknamed “Fess Up, Pay Less,” was proposed to a consortium of insurance executives and defense attorneys at their annual symposium in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and is the brainchild of John S. Quire, outside counsel for BS Insurance. Said Quire, “If all it takes to mitigate damages is a doctor willing to admit wrongdoing and a couple of hundred dollars to get them (patients) out of our court systems, isn’t that what this is really all about?” He added, “They’ve lost enough. Why put them through years of protracted litigation as well?”
Noting that preventable medical errors cause over 100,000 deaths a year, Quire and his bosses at BS insurance are looking for a way to minimize payouts on those claims. “The way to look at it,” said Quire, “is the less money insurance companies have to pay out on these malpractice and wrongful death claims, the more money they’ll have to lobby Congress to keep the present health care system we now have in place.
35 states and the District of Columbia have enacted “I’m sorry” laws which basically protect doctors who say I’m sorry after screwing up. The laws don’t prevent patients or their families from suing a doctor in court for having suffered grave losses directly caused by such boners as amputating the wrong appendage, or leaving an entire paperback copy of the Physicians’ Desk Reference inside someone’s cavity before sewing them back up. However, even if the doctor totally fesses up to the mistake at the time of the loss, that confession will not be admissible in court, thus making it harder for the tortfeasor (that’s the suer) to prove the doc (that’s the suee) did anything wrong.
Both men admitted the one roadblock to a successful plan going forward will be to convince the doctors that they won’t lose their licenses to practice medicine by admitting the making of avoidable mistakes. “We have to get them to understand that no matter how grave their mistake while treating a patient, they will not be held responsible and, in fact, saying sorry will probably earn them a few brownie points for being so honest,” explained Shnuck.
Quire added, “As long as their actions aren’t intentional, they should be able to come out of any situation bearing no scars (no pun intended).” He further elaborated with regard to intentional acts, i.e. doctors who “accidentally” amputate the hands of their stockbrokers while treating them for an enlarged prostate, just because they lost a few dollars in the stock market. “That would probably raise a few red flags,” said Quire.
The bottom line is this: Saying sorry won’t fix what is broke but it certainly can minimize the amount of money the doctor’s insurance company will have to pay on that claim. If you hit them (claimants) quickly with an offer of settlement before they have an opportunity to meet with a Plaintiff’s attorney, you have a better chance of getting the claim settled for little to no money up front. “Once we get a patient to sign a release, the doctor can breathe a sigh of relief and get onto the next patient without a care in the world,” said a smiling Schnuck.