An apology or explanation can be priceless to the loved one of someone who died during surgery, but many physicians are afraid that any condolences or expressions of sympathy or regret will end up being costly to them in the event of a malpractice lawsuit.

This creates an unfortunate “Catch-22,” as experimental projects have shown that apologies could actually prevent lawsuits from being filed because the injured party feels that his or her grievances are being addressed and aired.

Utah is trying to tackle this issue as part of its attempt to reduce medical malpractice lawsuits. A bill passed by the state House of Representatives and pending in the state Senate would encourage open and honest communications between health care practitioners and patients.

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The new rule would allow physicians to express apology and explain what went wrong during surgery or other procedures without fear that the statements would be used in court for either side.  Another bill being introduced would allow the state health department to set up a pilot program to provide a template for how open and honest dialogue between a health care provider and a patient could facilitate resolutions without the necessity of lawsuits.

The Utah House of Representatives has also passed a bill capping malpractice awards for pain and suffering at $450,000 (a reduction from the current $480,000). This bill is now in the Senate awaiting approval.