If someone makes a mistake that hurts us, an apology always helps – even if it’s not enough to make up for the harm. That applies to medical mistakes as well.
In fact, research has shown that when doctors offer an apology and an explanation of what occurred as well as a commitment to try to make things right, patients are less likely to take legal action. The problem is that doctors have long been afraid to even express regret for what occurred for fear that this will just provide evidence to be used against them in a medical malpractice suit.
Nevada, unlike most states, has no “apology law”
That’s why most states have enacted some form of “apology law” that limits the use of a doctor’s or other medical professional’s apology or expression of regret against them in court. Currently, Nevada has no such law. That means anything a doctor says may be used against them. Of course, if all they say is something like, “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain,” that’s hardly evidence of wrongdoing.
If you take a short trip to California and find yourself the victim of a medical error, that state (like a number of others) has a comprehensive apology statute that protects anything a health care provider says to you regarding an error, whether it’s a general expression of sympathy or an admission of guilt, from being used against them. Of course, if they admit to doing something wrong, like making a surgical error or prescribing the wrong dosage of a medication, there are likely other sources from which you can get admissible evidence.
Still other states have apology laws that are somewhere in the middle. A general apology for a patient’s pain or condition can’t be used against them. However, if they admit guilt as part of that apology (“I was really hungover when I typed that prescription into the computer”), that is admissible as evidence. However, such an admission is rare.
Even in Nevada and states with no apology law, a simple expression of sympathy is generally not a “gotcha” moment. However, it’s wise for patients and families to ask questions and listen carefully to everything that is said by all the health care providers on their team. All of this can be useful if you determine after seeking legal guidance that you have grounds for a malpractice suit.