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What does Montana’s “apology law” mean for patients?

On Behalf of | May 12, 2024 | Personal Injury

If you suffered harm due to a doctor’s negligence or error, you may have heard that bringing a successful malpractice claim can be a challenge. But what if the doctor actually apologized for failing to diagnose your condition sooner or for doing something during your procedure that caused additional damage?

Montana is one of the states in which a doctor’s or other medical professional’s apology can’t be used against them in a civil claim. Specifically, Montana law says, “A statement, affirmation, gesture, or conduct expressing apology, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, or a general sense of benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a person that is made to the person, the person’s family, or a friend…is not admissible for any purpose in a civil action for medical malpractice.”

Most states have some kind of “apology law” that allows doctors to empathize with a patient and their family when something goes wrong without worrying that they’re opening themselves up to a lawsuit. Some research has found that when doctors can feel free to express sympathy when something goes wrong, people are less likely to sue them – at least if the harm isn’t serious or irreparable.

That’s why most apology laws cover general expressions of sympathy and compassion but not direct apologies. As we noted, some states, including Montana, have more comprehensive laws that include direct apologies.

Apologies can lead to evidence that can be used

That doesn’t mean Montana doctors freely apologize every time they do something wrong – particularly something serious. That’s because an apology or admission of fault can make it easier to gather evidence that can be used in a malpractice case. Medical records, doctors’ notes, witness testimony from others and expert witnesses can all be used to build a strong case.

That’s why it’s crucial for patients and families to listen carefully and take notes whenever a doctor or someone on the medical team is explaining a bad or unexpected outcome. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

If you believe you may have a malpractice claim, it’s important to get legal guidance as soon as possible. The sooner evidence can be collected, the less likely it is to disappear or be modified and the better your chances may be of getting justice and compensation.