Apology for Fertility Clinic Tragedy Turning into Legal/PR Disaster
Many of the readers of this space surely remember the recent national story of frozen embryos and eggs being destroyed at University Hospitals in Cleveland, OH. The hospital's leadership quickly offered a public apology and support for impacted families.
"I can't say it any more plainly: We failed our fertility clinic patients. We are sorry; I am sorry," University Hospitals CEO Thomas Zenty said in a videotaped apology in March.
Those words from CEO Zenty were very powerful....and the claims and legal process going forward has to be equally powerful and convincing to families, the local trial bar, the media, and the community. However, it appears things are unraveling in Cleveland.
Shortly before Mother's Day -- talk about poor timing -- lawyers for the hospital filed motions with the court trying to dismiss two of the many lawsuits filed against the hospital. Their reasoning was that the cases weren't properly filed. The PI lawyer representing the family had a field day, and the judge told the hospital to forget it.
From a legal standpoint, I truly understand what the hospital's lawyers were trying to do. In Ohio, med-mal cases have a tort reform cap on damages. These fertility clinic lawsuits were not filed as med-mal cases to avoid the cap. I get it...the lawyers were trying to save a buck for their hospital client. However, looking at the bigger picture, this motion and the apparent overall legal strategy is ill-conceived, makes the hospital's apology look phony, will enflame the jury pool, and probably end of costing the hospital more not only in legal/settlement expenses but also bad PR.
Sorry Works! has taught hospitals and nursing homes that they need to involve their attorneys in their disclosure programs. Lawyers need to understand and embrace disclosure. Part of embracing the program means lawyers can't do things that are contrary to transparency. Can't say "sorry" to the nice family then play hide the football with the records, for example. Many lawyers actually to do support Sorry Works!, but, there are some legal beagles who don't get it (or don't want to get it) and we have told hospitals/nursing homes to fire these folks.
Also, sometimes hospital/nursing home leaders never really "go all the way" in implementing disclosure and apology. Sure, they can issue public apologies...sure, they can tell the media they support disclosure and apology, but they never invest the money or time to train medical staff as well as their claims, risk, and legal team. So, either a big case hits the media and the CEO says "sorry" but the legal process stinks going forward, OR a small case never percolates up to leadership because docs and nurses haven't been trained and the hospital only learns about said case when a request for records is made a PI lawyer.
Final note on lawyers: Over 14 years of teaching Sorry Works! I have noticed that defense lawyers often miss or don't understand the bigger picture of public reputation and perception of a hospital or nursing home in their community. Sometimes, lawyers develop a "legal tunnel vision" that while they may "win" a case the net sum is a big loss for their clients. Teaching disclosure to attorneys is a chance to change this dynamic. "Yeah, you 'won' the case but you destroyed our reputation in this community...so, how exactly did you help us? Why did we pay you all that money for your legal 'help?'"
We've made so much progress with disclosure and apology -- but there is more work to do! To help your organization truly embrace and implement disclosure, Sorry Works! is offering a free webinar June 26th at 130ET/1030am PT. To register, simply respond to this e-mail.
Happy Memorial Day!
Doug Wojcieszak, Founder