It’s Okay To Say I’m Sorry
Stand-up comedians and sitcoms have been making fun of Canadians for being polite as long as I can remember. Being known for our niceness is certainly not a bad thing and I wish more Canadian businesses would adopt this philosophy when people get hurt on their premises. As a lawyer practising in the field of personal injury law I see many clients who tell me that they would not be in my office if the other party (usually a big company) just apologized or quite frankly demonstrated any real concern for their well-being. Unfortunately, I think too many businesses are ill advised in that they assume if they are nice or they apologize this could be interpreted to mean that they did something wrong and it could hurt them in a lawsuit. As a result, human decency seems to go right out the window. What these businesses may not be aware of is that it’s okay to say “I’m sorry” or express sympathy to the victim of an injury and it cannot be used against them in a court of law.
For any cynics out there, I am not just trying to get businesses to admit guilt for the benefit of personal injury lawyers. Quite the opposite in fact; I believe that if businesses show more compassion it will be detrimental to personal injury lawyers as the clients are less likely to litigate (This does not necessarily apply to catastrophic claims.) There are numerous studies that look at the relationship between apologies and litigation, particularly in the field of medical negligence. As a result, many governments have created legislation that allows people to apologize without there being any recourse.
People often say “I’m sorry” and what they mean is that “I’m sorry you got hurt”, but that does not equate with “I’m sorry it’s my fault.” The reason it is okay to say “I’m sorry” in BC (regardless of what you mean) is that we have legislation called the Apology Act, which essentially states that an apology does not amount to an admission of fault or liability by the person involved and it must not be taken into account in any determination of fault or liability. In short, saying “I’m sorry” does not amount to guilt. Therefore you are free to apologize until the cows come home without legal consequence.
I have no doubt that there are some people who get hurt, that no matter how nice you are, they will do what they feel they need to do, but there are many others that are simply looking for kindness, compassion and respect. In cases involving more significant injury, such as where a person is severely disabled and cannot work anymore, a lawsuit will likely ensue out of necessity but it does not mean that an apology or compassion for what has happened to the person is not the right thing to do. In my view the best policy for anyone to apply is the golden rule – treat others the way you wish to be treated. What have you got to lose? From my perspective, nothing. The Apology Act protects you from liability, it protects you from any terms of your insurance policy that take issue with apologies and in turn it also protects the integrity of your business.
*Important Note: The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.