There was a time that even in a state as stereotypically nice as Iowa, doctors rarely expressed anything resembling regret or sympathy, let alone an apology, for any type of medical outcome – particularly if they were to blame. That’s because their words could be used against them if the patient or surviving family members filed a malpractice suit or other legal action against them.
Today, most states, including Iowa, have some form of what’s broadly known as an “apology law” that protects medical professionals from having their expressions of regret or even outright apologies used as evidence against them. These laws have helped foster better communication between patients and doctors when an error isn’t especially serious and can be remedied.
They can, however, present a challenge when a mistake has caused serious injury or worse. That doesn’t mean, however, that patients are prevented from filing malpractice claims. They just have to look elsewhere for their evidence.
Iowa’s “Evidence of Regret or Sorrow” law
This law governs those in a number of licensed professions, including health care professionals. It says in part, “In any civil action for professional negligence, personal injury, or wrongful death…that portion of a statement, affirmation, gesture, or conduct expressing sorrow, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, or a general sense of benevolence that was made by the person to the plaintiff, relative of the plaintiff, or decision maker for the plaintiff that relates to the discomfort, pain, suffering, injury, or death of the plaintiff as a result of an alleged breach of the applicable standard of care is inadmissible as evidence.”
How you can still hold a doctor liable for malpractice
This law certainly doesn’t prevent doctors and other health care professionals from being held liable for harm caused by their mistakes or negligence. Chances are good that there’s other evidence to indicate what went wrong and who was responsible. In fact, the more a doctor feels free to talk, the more information they may reveal that can lead you to solid evidence.
Don’t count on this evidence remaining in place for long, however. Records have been known to be “lost” or altered. Memories of those who witnessed the error can fade – or they can change employers or even leave the state. The sooner you seek legal guidance to determine whether you have a valid malpractice case, the better your chances can be of prevailing and getting justice and compensation.