Physicians have long been advised to be very careful in what they say to a patient. This is never more true than after an injury or death that may occur on that physician’s watch. Ohio Revised Code 2317.43 has been enforced by the Ohio General Assembly since September 2004. This is the source of the controversy surrounding the so-called “Apology Statute.”
Statements of sympathy are subject to limited liability
Medical malpractice suits tie up thousands of hours of time as well as millions of dollars. The purpose of the “Apology Statute” is to limit the frequency of these suits. The statute provides that statements, gestures, or general conduct by a physician that express compassion, sympathy, or condolence are not to be construed as admitting guilt.
The wording of the statute is set up to guard against any sort of admission of liability or violation of personal or professional interest. This means that a doctor showing sympathy to the family of an affected person does not constitute a confession of wrongdoing. The statute is clear on this even while being vague in other areas.
Increasing liability protection for health care providers
Many health care industry experts feel that the Apology Statute, as it currently exists, is insufficient to protect physicians against malpractice suits. They point to the increasing use of arbitration and other methods as a stopgap against the increase of these suits. Some feel that a more clearly worded update to this statute is in order.
As things now stand, the language of the statute does not provide a clear distinction between an admission of fault as a party admission or an admission against interest. This lack of clarity can open the door to a contentious and costly malpractice suit.
The wording of the statute is also unclear when it comes to distinguishing between the admissibility of a doctor’s blanket statement of sympathy and one that expressly acknowledges fault. This is a serious issue that medical and legal experts are working together to solve. A positive result of their efforts may be seen in the near future.