One of the most frustrating things that victims of medical malpractice and their families can experience is being left in the dark about what happened. Due to doctors’ and hospitals’ fear of litigation, they often will provide patients little or no information about the medical mistakes they committed. Traditionally, they would not even apologize to patients for the needless pain and disability they must now live with.

When people in the Harrisburg area file a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is often as much to find out the truth as it is to get reasonable financial compensation. Their attorney’s investigation into their case may be the only way they get the facts about what went wrong and who was responsible. It might also be the closest thing they get to an apology from the doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist or other healthcare provider who negligently hurt them.

In Pennsylvania, medical apologies are protected

While many Pennsylvania physicians are reluctant to offer an apology or an acknowledgment of their patient’s pain, state law encourages them to do so. The law protects any statement or action that conveys a sense of apology, condolence, explanation or compassion from being used as evidence in a malpractice suit. After committing medical malpractice on you, your Pennsylvania doctor is allowed to say, “I’m sorry,” or hug you, without worry that these actions could be an admission of guilt.

However, factual statements or direct admissions of guilt are not protected. Your physician cannot admit to you that they committed malpractice and expect the court to stop you from testifying about that.

Can ‘I’m sorry’ help victims heal?

What an apology would mean to a malpractice victim depends on the individual. But research has shown that receiving a message of apology and compassion from their physician or hospital tends to decrease anger and improve trust between the parties. The patient may experience improved mental and even physical health after being apologized to.

At the same time, you have medical bills to pay for. Things like recession surgery and physical therapy can cost thousands of dollars. So can remodeling your home to adapt to a new disability. An apology from your doctor does not make those debts go away. But it may make you feel respected and seen as a person.