Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Litigating Experience: “I’m Sorry” Laws

Last week I had an experience where I spent 6 hours on the phone over 3 days because of a mistake made by someone else. An unauthorized charge showed up on my credit card and I wanted it removed. Most of the people I spoke with were awful. I was even called ‘stupid’ by one for giving out my credit card info to the credit card company. The last person I spoke with was very nice and not only credited back the charge, but he apologized. As soon as he did, the situation was diffused and I was ready to move on.

Expressing sympathy and remorse for a situation greatly changes how we define an episode. It feels as if it is a necessary part to the ending of a bad experience. You can see this with the “I’m Sorry” laws being passed. Doctors had been found guilty of malpractice because courts recognized a doctor’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Following suit, doctors were encouraged to manage risk by using a “deny and defend” approach to problems with patients. What was found was that this technique actually led to a rise in malpractice suits. People become angry when something bad happens and there is no sympathy or remorse.

29 states have passed the “I’m sorry” laws allowing doctors to do just that. In these states doctors can now express sympathy without worrying about it being used as proof of liability. Unfortunately, New Jersey isn’t one of them. I'm sorry.

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