LEGAL MATTERS: When is it safe to say “I'm sorry”?
Kristopher T. Starr JD, MSN, RN

August 2013 
Volume 43  Number 8
Pages 14 - 14
  PDF Version Available!

Will I face liability in a service recovery or patient relations situation by apologizing for care perceived as substandard?This question raises very timely concerns about social expressions of empathy, such as presenting a disgruntled patient or family member with the words, "I'm sorry."What exactly are the legal implications of expressing remorseful understanding of a patient-perceived suboptimal care delivery scenario? Well, much like the intricacies of comedic timing (that is, the punch line), it all depends on the delivery. "I'm sorry you feel that your care has been substandard," has a completely different message and legal posture than "I'm sorry we overdosed your grandmother on an opioid and now she's intubated and may have suffered anoxic brain injury."According to The Joint Commission, service recovery "involves the service provider taking responsive action to 'recover' lost or dissatisfied customers and convert them into satisfied customers. Service recovery has proven to be

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