What's an Apology Worth? Decomposing the Effect of Apologies on Medical Malpractice Payments Using State Apology Laws


  • The authors thank Ori Heffetz, Ren Mu, Christine Durrance, and Emily Owens, as well as seminar participants at Stanford University, Cornell University, University of Houston Center for Public Policy, Hong Kong University, Brigham Young, National Taiwan University, the American Law and Economic Association, the American Economic Association Annual Meetings, and American Society of Health Economists for helpful comments.

Benjamin Ho, 124 Raymond Ave., Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604; email: beho@vassar.edu. Liu is at the University of Houston.


Past studies find that apologies affect the outcomes of medical malpractice litigation, but such studies have largely been limited to laboratory surveys or case studies. Following Ho and Liu (2010), we use the passage of state-level apology laws that exclude apologies from being used as evidence in medical malpractice cases, and estimate that apologizing to a patient in cases of medical malpractice litigation reduces the average payout by $32,000. This article seeks to unpack the mechanism of apologies by examining the differential impact of apologies laws by various subsamples. We find that apologies are most valuable for cases involving obstetrics and anesthesia, for cases involving infants, and for cases involving improper management by the physician and failures to diagnose.