When it comes to medical errors, when should you say 'I'm sorry'?

Deborah Craven, 60, filed a lawsuit against surgeons at Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital for removing part of the wrong rib. While the suit aims to hold her surgeons accountable for the mistake, there is another reason Ms. Craven felt pressed to take legal action — she never received an apology.

"No one apologized," said Joel Faxon, Ms. Craven's attorney, according to CNN. "And they never explained to her how the mistake was made."

While Yale said it informed and apologized to the patient about the mistake, Ms. Craven's attorney said she never received an apology, and further, claimed one of her surgeons tried to cover up the error, CNN reported.

The simple desire to hear the words "I'm sorry" and an explanation of medical mistakes is driving a movement to encourage hospitals and physicians to shift away from the "deny and defend" approach toward a more empathetic "acknowledge and apologize" one, according to the report.

Supporters of the movement argue apologizing after medical errors is not only the morally right thing to do, but it can also save hospitals money.

In some states, expressions of sympathy, condolences or apologies may be admissible before courts as possible evidence of wrongdoing or guilt in medical malpractice cases. Many physicians are advised or even ordered to withhold such statements to patients and their families. However, in an effort to reduce medical liability and malpractice lawsuits and litigation expenses, legislators and policymakers in 36 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have passed "I'm sorry" laws to exclude apologies or expressions of sympathy from being used against medical professionals in the courtroom.

When people feel listened to and empathized with, they are more likely to negotiate a settlement and less likely to file a lawsuit that could result in a significantly higher malpractice award from a jury, advocates of "I'm sorry" laws told CNN.

"I think the perception is that people just want money, and I think that's wrong," Leilani Schweitzer, assistant vice president of communication and resolution for The Risk Authority Stanford, said in a TEDx Talk, according to CNN. "Suing is difficult, it's painful and it's time-consuming and expensive. It's not a small thing to file a lawsuit. People hire lawyers because they feel deceived and abandoned."

In Ms. Craven's case, what she and her attorney have called a "cover up" by her surgeons has only made matters worse. After she was discharged from the hospital, Ms. Craven attempted to "resolve the matter informally," but "a Yale legal representative told her 'the case was not significant enough' for their involvement," her attorney said.

Mr. Faxon said Ms. Craven is still waiting for an explanation of why her surgeons operated on the wrong rib.

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