Okla. Tort Reform Committee Adopts ‘I’m Sorry’ Provision

May 21, 2004

The Oklahoma Senate reported that a special joint House-Senate Committee on Tort Reform has already adopted a provision lauded by medical professionals in a front page story in a Wall Street Journal as the most effective tool at stemming malpractice lawsuits.

The “I’m sorry” provision allows doctors and other health care professionals to apologize to patients and their families—in the event of an undesirable medical outcome—without fear that the apology can be used against them in a future lawsuit.

“We felt it was reasonable for physicians in Oklahoma to be able express their human emotions to their patients without having to fear that any apology would come back to haunt them in court,” said committee Co-Chairman Senator Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater.

“The story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal just emphasizes that saying ‘I’m sorry’ can actually deter some people from filing suit,” said Co-Chairwoman Representative Jari Askins, D-Duncan. “One medical professional quoted in the Journal said nothing is more effective in reducing liability than ‘an authentically offered apology.’ Some even suggest it could be the best solution to curbing increasing jury awards in medical malpractice cases and the rising cost of malpractice insurance.”

For decades, Morgan said, medical professionals have been encouraged to “defend and deny” in cases where patients or their families might file malpractice suits. The laws just haven’t been on their side. According to the Wall Street Journal story, two states, Oregon and Colorado, have already adopted specific laws allowing apologies—laws much like the ‘I’m sorry’ provision in House Bill 2661.

“Doctors have human emotions like the rest of us and are often tormented by having to fear legal reprisal if they express those feelings in an apology,” Morgan said. “It’s apparent, however, that apologizing is good for more than the doctor’s soul. It actually convinces some people not to file suit.”

Morgan and Askins said the “I’m sorry” provision of the bill is just one of the many reforms already adopted by the committee, which is continuing to meet almost daily to write the final version of the bill.

“The process is moving along very well. We have some difficult work ahead of us, but I’m confident the committee will complete its work in plenty of time for floor votes on House Bill 266l in the final week of the session,” Askins said.

“Some people continue to criticize the process, but we’re doing exactly what we said we would do. We held 15 hours of public hearings and have been using the information we gathered from the testimony of 40 witnesses to write the bill in open meetings,” Morgan said. “Critics say we’re not serious about tort reform. But I think the fact that we’ve already adopted a provision that the Wall Street Journal reports could be the real answer to slowing the increase in malpractice insurance rates shows that we’re very serious and that we’re on the right track.”

“To criticize the process now does more harm that good. The committee is working towards the same goals as in the beginning, to craft a proposal that will work for Oklahoma,” Askins said.

“At this point, those working against us are the real enemies of meaningful lawsuit reform,” Morgan said.

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