What Is Judicial Admission And What Does It Mean For Medical Malpractice Defense Cases?

Judicial admission is a courtroom process that helps one party from having to prove a fact. A piece of evidence is admitted by the judge, in writing, and is treated as if it is already a fact. Judicial admission has sometimes been referred to as admission in judicio, true admission, and solemn admission. In general, judicial admission is a concession by one courtroom party that a claim or defense is not false.

According to Ohio’s Supreme Court, certain of these admissions cannot be used during medical malpractice cases. What exactly does this mean for plaintiffs and defendants?

Think of it this way: your healthcare providers made a big mistake during surgery, either yours or someone else’s. Maybe your condition or injury was made worse by a mistake. Maybe a friend or loved one was inadvertently killed because of the mistake. The healthcare providers who allegedly made the mistake decide to personally apologize. Ohio’s decision means that apology is not proof that the mistake occurred, and that it cannot be used against them in court.

This was decided in the case of Stewart v. Vivian in 2017.

When Michelle Stewart tried to kill herself, healthcare providers placed her in the psychiatric unit of an Ohio hospital. She was in the care of Rodney Vivian, who had decided that Stewart should be checked on at least once every fifteen minutes. Only a day later, Stewart’s husband, Dennis, arrived for a visit to find her hanging unconscious. Stewart succumbed to the second suicide attempt days later.

Subsequently, Vivian made expressions of condolence to Dennis, and Dennis tried to use that as an admission of guilt in court after he sued the hospital. It didn’t work. The Ohio court ruled against him, but an appellate court heard his case and ruled in his favor. And it turned out that there were conflicting cases already in the pipeline. Because of this, the case was turned over to the Supreme Court, where it was finally dismissed yet again.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor described the potential consequences that the ruling may have on medical malpractice cases and many others. She did not agree that “the statute must be rigidly construed to cover only those statements including the words ‘I apologize’ or ‘I sympathize.’”

She wrote, “A health-care provider could render any statement inadmissible simply by affirming a subjective intent to apologize or to console.”

In other words, incriminating statements made by hospitals or healthcare staff could, in the future, be deemed inadmissible if the hospital’s defense attorneys can convince a judge or jury that they implied condolence or apology — which would be a dangerous precedent indeed.