A staggering number of people die or suffer serious harm each year due to preventable medical mistakes. With so many mistakes, some of which constitute medical malpractice, many wonder why the doctors that cause them don’t admit their errors.

According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety and detailed on ProPublica.org, an estimated 400,000 people die each year due to medical mistakes and 20 times more people are injured. Most states do not require a doctor to report a medical error, yet the American Medical Association’s Code of Patient Safety imposes an ethical obligation on doctors to admit their mistakes to their patients when it impacts patient health and safety.

So why won’t physicians fess up?

Personal pride and professional liability appear to be the two main reasons. A doctor may be embarrassed over a treatment gone wrong or an unfavorable outcome, and withholding information is a way to save face. More common, however, is the physician’s fear of legal action; owning up to an error could come back as an admission of liability in a lawsuit.

Many states have passed “apology” laws to protect doctors who demonstrate remorse and apologize for making mistakes (Michigan enacted “I’m Sorry” legislation in 2011). These laws differ somewhat across the 35 states that have implemented them, but essentially protect a physician’s apology from being used in court as an acknowledgement of fault or an admission of responsibility.

In many cases, hospitals and health care facilities are to blame for doctors remaining tight-lipped due to policies that discourage or prohibit revealing medical mistakes. Although hospitals may be legally required to disclose medical errors to patients, many of their protocols simply don’t allow it, effectively placing a gag on their doctors.

Patients have the right to be informed about medical errors that affect them, especially if those errors cause devastating or fatal injuries. For more than 45 years, the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group have represented people and families harmed by professional negligence. If you have questions regarding your medical treatment and your right to compensation, please contact us today for a free consultation.