Wisconsin Legislature Considers “I’m Sorry” Bill

On behalf of Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.

A doctor and a nurse serving in the Wisconsin Legislature have introduced a bill that would allow medical practitioners to apologize to patients when a mistake is made without the words being used against them later. Thirty-five states have similar laws.

In 2006, a similar bill was introduced and approved by the legislature. Governor Doyle vetoed the measure. In 2011, the bill was reintroduced but did not pass the Senate. Some lawyers fear that the bill goes too far. However, proponents of the bill say that an apology can go a long way toward helping medical malpractice victims heal. Some patients do not wish to file a lawsuit at all. What they really want is to talk to the medical provider about what happened and understand what went wrong. Under the current state of the law, doctors and nurses cannot apologize to patients without opening themselves up to civil liability.

A statement made by an opposing party is an exception to the hearsay rule. A statement that a person makes against his own interests is another exception. This means that currently an apology by a medical professional could be introduced as evidence of guilt in a civil action.

The law expects doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners to exhibit the same degree of skill and care that is typically used by other, similar medical professionals in the same area. When a medical practitioner falls below that standard of care and injures a patient, the patient may have a claim for damages. A personal injury attorney may be able to help injured patients recover additional medical expenses incurred, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Source: La Crosse Tribune, “Our view: Sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word,” Editorial Board, March 20, 2013