Is an apology evidence?

Proving a medical malpractice case in Ohio requires the presentation of sufficient evidence. However, the state Supreme Court recently ruled that the state's Apology Statute prohibits a doctor's admission of fault from being considered if the statement was part of an apology for a medical result that was unintended.

The Court ruled on an appeal of a malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of a patient who committed suicide. The patient was hospitalized after an earlier suicide attempt and was transferred to the care of the defendant in a hospital psychiatric department.

The defendant, a physician, ordered the staff to monitor the patient every 15 minutes. But, his family found the patient hanging in her room when they visited her the next morning. The patient was later removed from life support after the family was told that she would not recover.

When the patient was on life support, the defendant visited the patient and her family. The trial court ruled that his statements during the visit were excluded from evidence under the apology law, even though there are different accounts on what he said at trial.

The patient's husband and sister testified that the defendant asked about the patient, and her husband said that she attempted suicide. The defendant responded, according to this testimony, the patient told him that she would continue to try to kill herself, the situation was horrible, and he did not know what happened.

The state Supreme Court relied on the dictionary definition of apology. The majority ruled that the doctor's statements were an apology because it was an admission of wrongdoing or discourtesy accompanied by a statement of regret. The statement was made to the patient's family and expressed regret for an outcome that was unanticipated and acknowledged that the care did not meet medical standards.

The Court's decision upheld the jury's verdict against the plaintiffs. A dissenting Court justice, however, found that the defendant's statements may have been an attempt to apologize but unsuccessful because it was not an expression of sympathy, understanding condolence or compassion.

Obtaining evidence for proving medical professional negligence may be complicated. An attorney can help victims of this negligence seek compensation and prove their cases in court.

Source: Law 360, "Ohio high court says state law protects doc's apology," Emma Cueto, Sept. 12, 2017

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