“I’m sorry I hurt your stupid feelings!”

This is not an apology.  Neither is “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by my remarks.” It implies no regret for the act; only the reaction to it.  Any version of “I’m sorry but…” is not much of an apology.  The “but” erases whatever came before it.  “I’m sorry you misunderstood me.”  You get credit for apologizing while blaming the other person.

Why do we hesitate to make full apologies?  They are really quite powerful.  In addition to my litigation practice I coach students in conflict resolution.  Learning to make a genuine apology is often a very effective way to de-escalate a conflict. Insincere apologies (see above) can make a conflict worse.  Perhaps one of the reasons we are so bad at apologizing is the concern over being held liable and made to pay damages to the injured person.  Another reason could be that many insurance policies that provide third party coverage (coverage that protects you if someone sues you) state that any admissions of liability or responsibility might void your coverage.

In BC we are protected by the Apology Act.  It came into force May 18, 2006.  It states that no apology or expression of contrition or commiseration can be held against you.  As well, it cannot be used to void your insurance coverage no matter what your policy says.

The Act was tested in a recent case involving dancing lawyers.  One dancing lawyer fell on top of the other and injured her on the dance floor.  He apologized immediately and repeatedly.  At trial the court agreed that his apologies were not evidence of his liability.  He was found liable for being intoxicated and falling on the other lawyer.  The Attorney General’s page sums up the intent of the Apology Act as follows:  “The Apology Act recognizes the value that society places on apologies as a way of redressing wrongs. It also recognizes the therapeutic impact of an apology on an injured person and that apologies can promote the early, effective and affordable resolution of disputes.”

So, say you’re sorry when you do something wrong.  And stay away from dancing lawyers!

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

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