Illinois OKs Sorry Works!’ to curb malpractice suits

Pilot program receives bipartisan support

Illinois has become the first state to enact legislation based on the idea that an apology might serve as the most effective means to stop some medical malpractice lawsuits.

Based on the Sorry Works! program, Illinois Senate Bill 475 creates a pilot program that Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law in early June. The pilot program allows two Illinois hospitals to try Sorry Works! risk-free for a two-year period. The bipartisan legislation was backed by the Sorry Works! Coalition, a national organization dedicated to educating doctors and hospitals about the value of apologies and upfront compensation in reducing lawsuits, liability costs, and medical errors.

The ideas behind Sorry Works! are, in the case of an adverse incident:

  • Hospitals and physicians review the incident thoroughly, no matter what the investigation reveals.
  • The hospital contacts the family/patient and schedules a meeting, preferably with the family’s lawyer present.
  • If a mistake was made, "I’m sorry" is the first step, followed by a plan by the hospital and physician for the mistake not to happen again.
  • If no mistake was made, sympathy and full disclosure of the patient’s file and the investigation record are offered.

Doug Wojcieszak, founder and spokesman for the Sorry Works! Coalition, says that in the best scenarios, families’ questions are answered, they are fairly compensated (if deemed appropriate), and lawsuits that would have been filed simply out of anger are avoided.

"We’re thrilled that Sorry Works! passed the Illinois General Assembly," he says. "This provides important exposure for our efforts and extra incentives for doctors and hospitals to try Sorry Works!"

Under the Illinois plan, the state will establish a committee of medical, insurance, and legal experts to administer the pilot program. The committee will determine if lawsuits and liability costs increase, remain the same, or are reduced with Sorry Works! The state of Illinois will cover the difference in costs between the new norm and the old norm if costs rise; however, if lawsuits and costs go down under Sorry Works!, the hospitals will enjoy the savings and the state won’t incur any costs.

"Lawsuits and costs have dropped in every hospital that has tried Sorry Works!, so we expect more of the same here in Illinois with our pilot hospitals," Wojcieszak adds.

The program has worked successfully at hospitals such as the University of Michigan Hospital System, Stanford Medical Center, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and the VA Hospital in Lexington, KY.

"The pilot program simply provides an extra incentive for hospitals to try this approach, and it removes the excuses of the doubters, but the benefits of Sorry Works! — lower lawsuits, liability costs, and medical errors — should be incentive enough to try this approach. That is why we have seen several hospitals already adopt Sorry Works! on their own, and more can do so without waiting for state or federal legislators," he adds.

The Sorry Works! Coalition will now target other states to start pilot programs and will also work with federal legislators.

The president-elect of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association praised the new law as an attempt "to think outside the box," while the state medical society released a statement supporting the law so long as doctors’ apologies are not held admissible in court should the apology route fail and cases go to court. The medical society will continue to seek legislative caps on damages for pain and suffering.

For more information on Sorry Works!, go to www.sorryworks.net.