Michigan’s "apology" law and what it means in medical malpractice cases

A physician in Michigan who makes a mistake may apologize, but does that count as an admission of guilt?

As children, we are taught to apologize for a mistake we made. It seems to be the right thing to do: if you cause someone harm, you say that you are sorry. The same seems applicable when a doctor in Michigan acts negligently; he or she should apologize to the patient.

In fact, this does happen. The state even has a law in place regarding how those apologies may be used in the event of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Can I submit a doctor's apology as evidence in my case?

According to Michigan law, the apology itself or any other expression of sympathy or compassion may not be used as an admission of liability. Therefore, if a physician says he or she is sorry for someone's loss, pain or suffering, it may not be used as evidence. However, this law does not apply to any kind of statement that would be addressing culpability or fault.

For example, if a woman's child is lost during childbirth, and the attending physician says he or she is sorry for the loss, the statement itself may not be evidence. Consider, alternatively, that the physician says he or she is sorry for not monitoring the mother and child as they should have been. That statement may be used in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Does this prompt physicians to deny mistakes?

It could. Some doctors may fear litigation and cut off communication to patients altogether. This could prove harmful, as some people may not be aware that a mistake in their care was made until down the road, when a condition has become much worse.

What is the medical industry doing about it?

Fortunately, leaders in the medical industry have recognized that more communication, not less, is the answer. In fact, right here in Michigan, a program was pioneered to test a program called CANDOR, which stands for Communication and Optimal Resolution.

According to a report from The Washington Post, the program intends to improve transparency by asking physicians to promptly disclose a mistake and make an apology. In some cases, compensation may be extended almost immediately. The Washington Post notes that in the first year after Michigan adopted the program, the number of medical negligence lawsuits filed were cut in half.

Should I simply accept an apology and move on?

An apology from a physician does not remedy the mistake he or she made. Even though compensation may not ever undo the damage that has been done, it may at least cover the additional expenses someone has incurred as a result of the error.

In Michigan, plaintiffs have two years from the date of the error to initiate a claim, or within six months of discovering the issue. An attorney should always be consulted to review an apology and an offer of compensation.