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21 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 1009 (2004-2005)
What We Know and Don't Know about the Role of Apologies in Resolving Health Care Disputes

handle is hein.journals/gslr21 and id is 1023 raw text is: WHAT WE KNOW AND DON'T KNOW ABOUT THE
ROLE OF APOLOGIES IN RESOLVING
HEALTH CARE DISPUTES
Jennifer K. Robbennolt*
INTRODUCTION
The role of apologies in resolving all types of civil disputes has
received growing attention.1 While apologies may well play a role in
resolving civil disputes generally,2 they may be particularly relevant
in the health care setting-a setting in which the parties are in a
relationship    that necessitates a high degree of trust and                intimacy.3
Apology is, after all, consistent with a professional ethic that cares
for and respects patients. In addition, there is evidence that patients
desire apologies after medical errors and that physicians desire to
give    apologies.4       Physicians,      however,      are    apprehensive        that
disclosing errors and apologizing for them will result in lawsuits and
* Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development and Associate Professor of Law,
University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. Thanks to Jay Hastings for research assistance and to
the University of Missouri Law School Foundation for financial support.
1. See, e.g., Jonathan R. Cohen, Advising Clients to Apologize, 72 S. CAL. L. REV. 1009 (1999)
[hereinafter Advising Clients to Apologize]; Jonathan R. Cohen, Legislating Apology: The Pros and
Cons, 70 U. CIN. L. REV. 819 (2002) [hereinafter Legislating Apology]; Erin Ann O'Hara & Douglas
Yam, On Apology and Consilience, 77 WASH. L. REV. 1121 (2002); Aviva Orenstein, Apology
Excepted: Incorporating a Feminist Analysis into Evidence Policy Where You Would Least Expect It, 28
Sw. U. L. REV. 221 (1999); Jennifer K. Robbennolt, Apologies and Legal Settlement: An Empirical
Examination, 102 MICH. L. REV. 460 (2003); Daniel Shuman, The Role of Apology in Tort Law, 83
JUDICATURE 180 (2000); Lee Taft, Apology Subverted: The Commodification of Apology, 109 YALE L.J.
1135 (2000).
2. See Advising Clients to Apologize, supra note 1, at 1031; Robbennolt, supra note 1, at 461.
3. See Marlynn L. May & Daniel B. Stengel, Who Sues Their Doctors? How Patients Handle
Medical Grievances, 24 LAw & SOC'Y REV. 105, 110 (1990) ([T]he patient/doctor connection is
unique in the 'personal' bond that links the parties. The doctor is dealing with the patient's body and
health and may literally hold the life of the patient in his/her hands.); C.A. Vincent & A. Coulter,
Patient Safety: What About the Patient? 11 QuALrrY SAFE HEALTH CARE 76, 78 (2002) (noting that
patients have been harmed, unintentionally, by people in whom they placed considerable trust and that
then they are often cared for by the same professions, and perhaps the same people, as those involved
in the original injury.).
4. See infra Part I.

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