Does Sorry Work? The Impact of Apology Laws on Medical Malpractice

55 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2011 Last revised: 21 Feb 2011

See all articles by Benjamin Ho

Benjamin Ho

Vassar College

Elaine Liu

University of Houston

Date Written: December 1, 2010


Apologies made by physicians for adverse medical events have been identified as a mitigating factor in whether patients decide to litigate. However, doctors are socialized to avoid apologies because apologies admit guilt and invite lawsuits. An apology law, which specifies that a physician’s apology is inadmissible in court, is written to encourage patient-physician communication. Building on a simple model, we examine whether apology laws at the State level have an impact on malpractice lawsuits and settlements. Using a difference-in-differences estimation, we find that State-level apology laws could expedite the settlement process. Using individual level data, we also find that apology laws have the greatest reduction in average payment size and settlement time in cases involving more severe patient outcomes.

Suggested Citation

Ho, Benjamin and Liu, Elaine, Does Sorry Work? The Impact of Apology Laws on Medical Malpractice (December 1, 2010). Johnson School Research Paper Series No. 04-2011, Available at SSRN: or

Benjamin Ho (Contact Author)

Vassar College ( email )

124 Raymond Avenue
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604
United States

Elaine Liu

University of Houston ( email )

4800 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204
United States

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