Doctors are human and thus make mistakes all the time, but a lot of questions surround how to discuss these mistakes once they occur:
- Is it better to know about those mistakes when they happen, even if they can be reversed and won’t cause serious harm?
- Will the patient be less likely to sue if he or she finds out about the error directly from the doctor?
- Can a doctor get punished for admitting an error, when the alternative would be to try to cover it up?
These questions and more relate to an issue called “disclosure.”
In general, patients want all the information they can have, including reports of any errors, details about why and how the error occurred, and a plan for reversing the impact of the mistake. Doctors, on the other hand, fearing possible malpractice lawsuits, often under-report errors or tiptoe around making a formal apology and admitting fault.
This tension helps no one: the patient has a right to know what happened to them; and it’s unethical for doctors to fear their patients so much that they hide important information.
As a result, many states have passed laws to protect doctors if and when they decide to disclose an error. In some states, even a doctor’s full admission of fault may not be used against them in court. In other states, acknowledging the error and expressing sympathy (“I’m sorry”) are protected in court, while admission of fault is not.
This doesn’t mean you can’t sue if you were injured by the error – it just means your lawyers can’t use that testimony against the doctor as evidence in the lawsuit.
Legislators hope these laws will help doctors and patients have more open and honest communication. In some cases, kind apologies from the doctor have been known to prevent lawsuits from being filed at all.
Tennessee does not at this time have a law protecting doctors who disclose errors. However, the laws statewide are pretty strict about when you can and can’t file a malpractice lawsuit. The burden of proof is in fact so heavy that most TN doctors can feel free to disclose any information to their patients without fear of a lawsuit, unless the mistake was fatal or caused severe, life-altering damage.
If you fear you’ve been injured due to a doctor’s mistake – whether or not they disclosed it to you at the time – you may be entitled to compensation. The laws in Tennessee are strict and there’s a statute of limitations, so the best thing to do is contact an experienced malpractice attorney. Our lawyers will look over your case with you and discuss your options at no cost to you.
Contact us online today or give us a call at (901) 327-1212.
Photo by Sanja Gjenero.