Doctor Apologies and Letters of Sympathy Laws

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 What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice claims typically arise in relation to a mistake made by a healthcare professional when treating a patient. The scope of these laws, however, is much broader.
Medical malpractice claims may involve issues which result in harm to a patient, including:

  • Any treatments;
  • Lack of treatments; or
  • Other departures from the accepted standard of medical care.

Medical malpractice liability determines what parties should be held liable for injuries to a patient. The party who is liable is usually the one who breached the duty of care and who was the actual cause of the injuries the patient suffered.

In some cases, however, it may be difficult to determine who the liable parties actually are.

Who is Liable in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

A medical malpractice claim may be brought against any healthcare professional who contributed to the injuries the patient sustained. Parties who may be held liable for medical malpractice may include:

  • Doctors, who may be liable if their conduct differed from the generally accepted standard of care or practice;
  • Hospitals may be held liable for inadequate training of their healthcare professionals or for improper care of patients; and
  • Nurses and other medical staff members, who may be held liable if they attended to the patient and their actions contributed to the patients injuries.

Hospitals may be held liable for injuries to patients under the legal theory of respondeat superior. Pursuant to this theory, employers may be held liable for negligent acts of their employees if that employee was acting within the scope of their employment when the negligent conduct occurred.

Hospitals may be required to pay compensatory damages and, in some cases, punitive damages.

What Needs to be Proved in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

In order to be successful, a medical malpractice claim is required to satisfy all of the following requirements:

  • Injury. The doctor or healthcare professional caused injury to the patient;
    • This is very often difficult to prove because most individuals are not in their best state of health when they visit a doctor and they do not have the medical expertise required to establish the injury connection;
  • Negligence. Carelessness on behalf of the healthcare professional;
    • A plaintiff is required to show that the medical treatment fell below the accepted standard of care;
    • The test for the accepted standard of care is generally what a reasonable healthcare professional in the community would do in the same or similar circumstances; and
  • Statute of limitations. The time limit when a plaintiff must bring their claim.
    • The time limit for filing medical malpractice claims varies from 1-7 years depending on the state.

What Are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims?

There are numerous examples of medical malpractice claims, including, but not limited to:

What Are Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitations?

Medical malpractice claims, as noted above, have a statute of limitations. This means that plaintiffs only have a specific amount of time in which to file their lawsuit.

As previously discussed, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional falls below the standard of care when diagnosing, treating, or managing a patient, which results in injury to the patient. It can be difficult to determine when the statute of limitations begins for some medical malpractice claims.

This is because it may take months or years for the patient to discover that there was an issue with their treatment. This is also true for medical negligence claims because medical malpractice lawsuits are often based on this issue.

Due to the fact that, in some cases, it will not be immediately obvious that a patient suffered harm, there may be exceptions to a statute of limitations. This may allow a plaintiff to file their claim after the primary period for filing has ended.

For example, in California, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is no longer than 3 years following the injury. If, however, a patient could not have reasonably discovered the injury prior to 3 years but eventually does, they will have 1 year from that time of discovering the injury to file their claim.

Do Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitation Vary by State?

Yes, medical malpractice laws generally vary state by state. This also includes the statute of limitations periods for these types of lawsuits. For example, California will make certain exceptions to the filing deadlines if the medical malpractice claim contained fraud.

The majority of states have different statutes of limitations if the medical malpractice case involves a foreign object which was left inside the patient during surgery and is not discovered until much later in time. Many states also provide different filing decades if a plaintiff is a child, with most laws permitting a child to reach a specific age prior to filing their claim.

What are Doctor Apologies and Letters of Sympathy?

Doctor apologies are correspondences or letters which are written by doctors and provided to their patients which explain their liability for an incident or injury. In many cases, they are related to doctor liability in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

For example, a doctor may write a letter to their patient which explains how the patient was injured during surgery. A letter may also discuss the outcome of a prescription error.

A letter of sympathy is similar to a doctor’s apology but often relates to an instance of wrongful death. In numerous states, doctor apologies are becoming more and more common because individuals are interested in the details of the medical treatment that they received.

Doctor apologies may be provided in cases which involve:

  • Medical malpractice;
  • Medical misdiagnosis;
  • Medical negligence;
  • Erroneous surgical procedures;
  • Issues with prescription medications; and
  • Other medical conflicts.

A doctor apology is intended to provide both a statement of the doctor’s role in the error as well as explain the incident in general. Doctor apologies and sympathy letters are a relatively new practice in the medical field.

They may help to alleviate some of the uncertainty which is traditionally associated with healthcare procedures.

Are Doctor Apologies Required?

The majority of state laws do not require doctor apologies. There are numerous states that have laws which permit doctors to issue apology and sympathy letters.

Doctor apologies may also be issued voluntarily if the doctor desires to do so. It is important to note that, while a doctor’s apology may be helpful for patients, they are not replacements or alternatives to medical compensation.

In other words, if a patient suffers injury or losses which warrant filing a medical malpractice claim, they should seek those damages to which they are entitled. Certain medical malpractice issues cause serious injuries or losses which should be remedied through a court of law.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Doctor Apology Letters?

It is essential to have the assistance of a personal injury lawyer for help with doctor apology letters. A doctor apology or letter of sympathy may help to explain the doctor’s position or role in a medical malpractice incident.

Doctor apologies and letters of sympathy may also be used as evidence in a lawsuit. Your lawyer can review your case, determine if a lawsuit should be filed, and represent you during negotiations or in a court of law.


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