Deceased Woman's Family Receives Apology in Court
An Irish family received an apology from the hospital and doctors for the death of their mother, Susan McGee, age 52, following a hernia surgery that caused a small tear in her gut that was not treated in a timely manner. The case revolved around poor hand-offs between physicians. The hospital and doctors admitted liability in court, but the attorney for the family said, "it had taken five years to bring the case to the point where defendants had no alternative but to admit responsibility and apologize." The attorney further stated that the prolonged nature of the case made the family wonder whether the policy of open disclosure was actually practiced by the hospital and doctors. The apology included a settlement worth approximately $342K in US Dollars. You can read more here.
So, is this a case of true apology and contrition, or "sorry we finally got caught?" Last week I critiqued an apology given to a Boston widower for his wife's death, and one of rubs about that particular case was that the apology was only forthcoming after the hospital had been bludgeoned in the press. "Sorry, but this media coverage is killing us!" was part of my commentary.
Throughout the years, we have coached and counseled hospitals, nursing homes, insurers, and defense counsel that apology must happen sooner rather than later, but don't act in haste. You can't take back an apology for what was later determined to be defensible medicine. Conversely, getting an apology beaten out of you in the litigation process may not ring true to the patient or family. Nonetheless, I have met and spoken to (and read about) countless families who have gone through a bloody litigation process and "won," but never received an apology or even an explanation from the doctor -- and they were still grieving that hole in their lives. Also, I've counseled several families and also PI lawyers that apology and discussion of safety improvements can be a meaningful part of any settlement during the litigation process. "Just because you haven't received an apology doesn't mean it still can't happen," I routinely tell families.
In summary, I believe there are unethical claims managers and defense lawyers who will literally play a game of chicken during the litigation process, and only apologize to save face and perhaps a little money. I have often said these rascals need to be fired, immediately. However, I also believe there are times in the litigation process where well-meaning people in the defense don't have all the answers or information at the onset. Sometimes, the discovery process, including depositions, can make clear what was once opaque. Indeed, sometimes doctors not only lie to patients, but also to risk managers, defense attorneys, and even themselves! I think this can be especially true when there are multiple defendants, or the medicine is complex, or a number of other variables and what ifs. In these cases apology should be welcomed and taken at face value. Moreover, I counsel people to remember that 10 to 20 years ago apology rarely happened in any cases, especially when a "rascal" was running the show for the defense. Even apologies that are beaten out of hospitals and nursing homes can sometimes provide comfort and closure for patients and families.
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Doug Wojcieszak, Founder and President
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