Following the lead of a Midwestern hospital, facilities throughout the country are taking a novel approach to medical malpractice – honesty. In an effort to limit liability, hospitals are calling patients’ families for meetings where they inform the family members that their loved one died, not because of natural causes, but physician malpractice or negligence. Surprisingly, the approach has worked to the extent that most family members appreciate an honest account of the cause of death.
However, there is an invidious motive behind this new policy. Hospitals are finding that by calling family members into their facility and telling them what happened, they are able to force ignorant or misinformed grieving family members into an emotional decision to settle before even consulting an attorney. This has the potential to create problems where settlements are far below fair compensation for the pain and suffering experienced by the family or even insufficient to cover basic medical expenses. Many of these cases involve gross negligence on the part of physicians where a patient is administered the wrong medication or a fundamental test is not performed that could have prevented death.
Ultimately, the policy of honesty has potential in wrongful death situations. However, patients and family members should be cautious when faced with a sudden decision to settle. At the very least, these individuals should avoid making an emotional decision on-the-spot. To this extent, consulting an attorney would help improve and refine this new approach to medical malpractice.
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