Boston Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Averted Due To New “Apology Policy”

It’s the word we all never want to hear: cancer.

That was the very word that Mary White heard on Friday afternoon in May 2007. Her gynecologist called her to say that the polyp that she had had removed a week prior was actually “an aggressive uterine cancer.” The gynecologist told her she needed additional surgery urgently. to remove the cancer. Not surprisingly, she panicked at this information and had her uterus removed. Not too long after the surgery, however, she received another unexpected phone call. This time, her gynecologist informer her that in fact, she did not have cancer at all, and never did have cancer. The surgery removing her uterus, and rendering her sterile for life, was needless.

You don’t have to be a Boston medical malpractice attorney, as I am, to understand the tumultuous and devastating emotions that Ms. White suffered due to those two phone calls. Anyone would sympathize and empathize with her circumstances.

At that point, most people would have filed a Boston medical malpractice lawsuit. In fact, some of Ms. White’s friends apparently urged her to file a Boston personal injury lawsuit , in response to the medical negligence she had suffered.

But she didn’t file suit, and here’s why. The hospital, Brigham and Women’s, Ms. White’s medical caregivers, and their malpractice insurer quickly apologized to Ms. White, disclosed details to her about what went wrong, then implemented improvements in hospital procedures, and lastly, offered her a financial settlement for her pain and suffering. They did these things quite swiftly, in the hopes that she would not file a medical malpractice lawsuit. A Massachusetts medical malpractice lawsuit typically takes four years to resolve.

What the hospital did is a relatively new procedure called the “disclosure, apology and offer” approach. This approach is the foundation for a new initiative that is designed to improve Massachusetts’ medical malpractice system. In fact, last month a coalition of state physician, hospital and patient groups made an announcement about their implementation of a $1 Million grant that would educate the medical industry about this new procedure. After they collect data about how this new program works at seven hospitals, they may push for its adoption statewide.

As a Boston injury lawyer, here are my thoughts about this new program. First, I don’t necessarily disagree with this new procedure as long as the financial damages awarded are high enough to actually make up for the pain and suffering that victims have to endure. In Ms. White’s this situation, I do not know what she was awarded. Second, it seems to me that this new program, in its current iteration, is designed to, for lack of a better phrase, “keep the lawyers out of the process.” It strikes me that insurers for doctors and hospitals would like to put these apologies and offers in front of injured patients, have them sign on the proverbial dotted line, take what they’re offered as compensation for their injuries and just go away. I would oppose any “program” that tries to sytematically remove experienced legal counsel from representing patients’ interests as part of any such program.

Third, and very importanly, I wish to point out that the public, in almost all cases, is fed the wrong information regarding the effect that medical negligence lawsuits have on ever-increasing medicla malpractice insurance premiums. There is, in fact, NO CORRELATION between medical malpractice insurance premiums and medical negligence lawsuits. When the two are correlated, it is done so to mislead the public by liability insurance companies who push for tort reform and financial “cap”s on medical malpractice damages. Why do they seek these damage caps and tort reform in general? To fatten their ever-growing profit margins. It’s the same old story about this industry. It never ends.

I’ve said repeatedly that tort reform is poor public policy, founded on overblown claims of a “lawsuit crisis” that doesn’t exist. Tort reform is an especially bad idea for anyone who finds himself or herself the victim of Massachusetts medical malpractice.