How would you react if a surgeon removed the wrong body part?

That's what happened to Deborah Craven. Last May, according to a statement Yale-New Haven hospital filed with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, surgeons were supposed to remove a mass from Craven's eighth rib.

Instead, according to the statement, they removed the wrong rib.

After what Craven viewed as a series of further missteps by the hospital, she decided to sue.

Medical malpractice suits are nothing new. (Reports indicate that malpractice payouts totaled $3.9 billion in the U.S. in 2014.) What's interesting is, as CNN's recent interview with Craven's attorney reveals, Craven isn't suing because of the mistake.

Instead, in large part, it's because she never heard these two words:

"I'm sorry."

CNN reports:

"No one apologized," said Joel Faxon, Craven's attorney. "And they never explained to her how the mistake was made."

...In addition, Craven says a doctor lied to her to hide the mistake.

Faxon...said Yale could have saved money if it had done two things: made a full apology to Craven, including an honest explanation of how the error occurred, and if it had abided by her request that the doctor involved in the alleged cover-up be kept out of the operating room during a second surgery.

If Yale had done those two things, he said, his client would never have sued.

To be fair, Yale claimed in a statement that it did apologize to Craven (according to CNN's report). However, the hospital "declined to say when and how that apology was made and what exactly was said."

Are You Inspiring Vengeance or Loyalty?

It's of note that apologies or condolences have a history of being used in courts against doctors, as possible evidence of wrongdoing. But "I'm sorry" laws, which have already been passed in 36 states (including Connecticut, where this event took place), say apologies cannot be used against medical professionals in court.

Legislators hope these laws reverse the trend of using doctors' apologies against them.

Medical malpractice is just one example we see of big mistakes made on a daily basis. Many times, people seek revenge out of principle--because they feel they've been wronged. They want to get the offender back somehow...or discourage them from doing the same thing again.

But an apology can be powerful.

Just think: Whom would you prefer to work or do business with?

Person 1: When he or she makes a mistake, hides it, minimizes it, or attempts to shift the blame

Person 2: Acknowledges imperfection, and is not threatened by it. After identifying the mistake, he or she admits it, apologizes, and looks for ways to learn and improve

The answer is obvious, isn't it?

Even the best make mistakes. When you admit them, you make a big statement about how you (or your company) view yourself in relation to others. This actually draws people to you and builds loyalty.

It also encourages open and transparent communication--which leads to a culture of continuous improvement.

Putting It into Practice

Admittedly, "I'm sorry" can be the most difficult words to utter in the English language.

But developing qualities like humility and authenticity will attract others, and will contribute towards healthy relationships.

You may have heard that thoughts always precede actions. So, when we're working on changing habits and behaviors, it's helpful to think about the "why":

Why should I apologize when I make a major mistake?

  • Everyone makes mistakes. Hiding yours doesn't make you any stronger in the eyes of others; in fact, it does exactly the opposite.
  • You show accountability, demonstrate courage, and develop your own character.
  • You repair hurt feelings, discourage others from seeking revenge, and even inspire others to admit their mistakes.

In the end, sincerely apologizing leads to better relationships with others.

And that allows others to make you better, too.