Written by attorney Christopher J Zachar

Arizona Medical Malpractice Law: Is my Doctor’s Apology an Admission of Responsibility?

Arizona Medical Malpractice Law has a few features that distinguishes it from other areas of accident/injury law. One of the important differences is that Arizona’s medical malpractice law provides a specific exception for health care providers who say “I am sorry".

Probably the single most common mistake that people make when accidents occur is admitting fault. As children, we all learn to say we’re sorry when other people get hurt, and it’s part of our unwritten social rulebook that when someone bumps into us or drops something they’re handing to us, we apologize.

Can a doctor offering a sincere apology for the way a patient’s surgery turned out really condemn them in the eyes of Arizona medical malpractice law? Like many legal questions, the answer depends. If the doctor (or anyone in the wide class of people that Arizona’s medical malpractice law recognizes as a “medical care provider") makes a statement expressing apology or sympathy over a patient’s pain or injury, it may NOT be used in court as an admission of legal responsibility. This is because Arizona, like about two dozen other states, has enacted an “I’m Sorry Law", intended to allow medical personnel to make natural expressions of remorse without the fear of legal consequences. (The law encourages doctors to admit and apologize for their errors. It is theorized that these admissions may alleviate hostility, and actually prevents claims or lawsuits for medical malpractice.)

However, the law is not an absolute protection. For one thing, it only applies when the doctor is speaking to the patient, their family, or someone with medical power of attorney for the patient. If the doctor apologized to anyone else, that apology could certainly result in an admission that leads to legal liability. Also, the law only prevents plaintiffs from using the apology as direct evidence of an admission of culpability or admission against the doctor’s interest. This means that there may be other, permissible, ways to use the apology (for example, as evidence that the doctor has changed their story between the accident and trial).

Arizona’s “I’m sorry law," as part of the Arizona Medical Malpractice Law, is relatively new, and as a result there are still open questions about how far it goes and when it applies. Nevertheless, an admission of responsibility is always an item of interest for an Arizona malpractice attorney. You should bring it to your attorney’s attention as soon as possible.

Of course, when you’re hurt in a medical accident you won’t always know where to begin or what your options are. In those situations, it is very helpful to have the guidance of an experienced attorney in Arizona medical malpractice law to ensure that you get the compensation you deserve.

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