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When an apology isn’t seen as a sign of sympathy

For many people, losing a loved one unexpectedly can be incredibly devastating, leaving most people emotionally devastated. Because doctors, surgeons and nurses are people too, empathy is a common reaction to these sad situations. Upon reflex, a medical professional might offer their condolences with a heart-felt apology. But what they see as a sign of sympathy might come across as anything but to the grieving family.

When a person dies while in the care of doctors, their loved ones may immediately start pointing fingers at the hospital or attending medical professionals, claiming that negligence was a factor. They may even say that the use of the phrase “I’m sorry” shows guilt and therefore indicates liability. It’s not uncommon to see this type of reaction to something as simple as an apology. So what can medical professionals expect here in New York?

Unlike some other states in the nation, New York does not have on its books an apology or “I’m Sorry” law or statute. This type of legislation, which has been implanted in 36 states according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, typically excludes expressions of regret or apology as evidence in personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuits. As we said though, New York does not have such as law, which means apologizing to the family of a patient who has just died could be problematic, especially because the apology could be used as evidence in a civil action later on.

Though showing your condolences is a human reaction, doctors and medical professionals here in Albany and across New York need to be aware of the fact that our state laws do not afford you protection from civil liability in situations where an apology has been uttered. This is incredibly important to keep in mind and worth discussing with an attorney, especially if it could mean litigation later on.

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