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Apology and Organizations: Exploring an Example from Medical Practice

Jonathan R. Cohen

University of Florida Levin College of Law

February 25, 2000

In 1987, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky took a surprising step. They decided that when they made a medical error they would truly "come clean" and fully assume responsibility for the error, including apologizing for it. Over the next decade, they went from being one of the highest net legal cost hospitals to among the lowest net legal cost hospitals in the VA system. This paper uses their experience as a springboard for exploring the potential for the use of apology by organizations. Topics discussed include (i) the impact of apology on learning to prevent future errors, (ii) divergent interests toward apology stemming from principal-agents tensions in employment, risk preferences, and sources of insurance, (iii) non-pecuniary benefits of apology to corporate morale, productivity and reputation, (iv) standing and scope when apologizing, and (v) the articulation of policies toward injuries to others.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 48

JEL Classification: K40, K41, K00

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Date posted: September 7, 2000  

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Jonathan R., Apology and Organizations: Exploring an Example from Medical Practice (February 25, 2000). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=238330 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.238330

Contact Information

Jonathan R. Cohen (Contact Author)
University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )
P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
(352) 273-0919 (Phone)
(352) 392-3005 (Fax)

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