If a doctor’s apology can’t be used in court, what good is it?

On Behalf of | Jun 20, 2023 | Medical Malpractice |

If you’re considering taking legal action for medical malpractice, you may already be aware that Georgia is one of the relatively few states where a doctor or other medical professional’s apology for an error or negligence can’t be used as evidence against them.

Most states have some version of an “apology law.” However, most of these exempt only expressions of sympathy from being used against a doctor. The idea is to encourage doctors to be able to communicate more compassionately with patients and family members when something goes wrong. The findings are mixed as to whether or to what extent this reduces malpractice suits. That largely depends on how egregious and reparable the mistake was.

How that apology can be used against them

So if a Georgia doctor admits that they made a mistake and apologizes for it, does that mean they avoid any legal consequences? Not at all.

There may be a lot of information contained in that apology that can lead you to evidence in your medical record and doctor’s notes. It’s important to get to these as soon as possible, however, before they are “modified” or erased completely.

Further, a doctor’s apology can be used by an attorney when they question the doctor in a pre-trial deposition. That gets the doctor on the record under oath. While they couldn’t be asked about their apology during the trial, they can be asked whether they believe they made any mistakes and what those were. If they contradict previous sworn testimony and their earlier apology, they could face legal consequences for perjury.

The “apology law” only applies to civil cases 

It’s also important to remember that this law doesn’t apply to criminal cases or to medical board hearings – only to civil malpractice cases. Therefore, if an error or act of negligence is particularly serious, they could face consequences beyond a lawsuit.

Most doctors, even in Georgia, aren’t going to confess to a serious lapse in judgment or another mistake. However, it’s crucial for patients and their loved ones to ask questions when something goes wrong and listen carefully to everything that’s said. You never know what will lead you to evidence you can use. Getting legal guidance as soon as possible is also a wise move.