Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just Because I Said I Was Sorry, it Doesn’t Mean it Was My Fault

British Columbia started it, Saskatchewan and Manitoba followed, and now the Yukon Territories and Ontario are looking to join in on the “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean it’s my fault” legislation – otherwise known as the Apology Act. Bill 59 passed its second reading on May 15th, 2008 and is now in front of the Standing Committee on Social Policy for fine tuning before heading to the Third Reading and Royal Ascent. (Let’s not forget our neighbours to the south, where 35 States have some form of apologetic legislation). This particular piece of legislation is applicable only in civil matters and not criminal proceedings.
On the surface this seems like an appropriate piece of legislation, given that according to the 1999 American Bar Association Journal, 30% of plaintiffs would not have sued if an apology was given. Furthermore, published in the 2003 American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 37% of patients and family members suing may not have done so if an apology and an explanation was provided. Seems odd though that there are no Canadian Statistics on the impact of an issuance of an apology in advance of a lawsuit.
The move to bring this legislation into Law, is to allow compassion to be given without the fear of retribution based on an apology being interpreted as an admission of guilt. Due to the escalating civil suits which are realizing an increased monetary settlement or award, saying ‘sorry’ was used as a leverage to assign blame and guilt. Thinking back, if this was truly the case, then all those who expressed sorrow when my cat Tabitha died by saying “I’m sorry your cat died”…I should have sued them, because they just admitted guilt in the cause of her death! Yet I digress…
While those in the medical field are applauding this piece of legislation, it’s unfortunate that it becomes necessary to authour a law making it okay for a surgeon to say their sorry when someone dies on the operating table, regardless of fault. Consequently, the option is on the side of caution by not expressing any remorse for the loss, and leaving those behind to figure out whether the surgeon really cared or not. The impact of this legislative piece is still to be realized, but because this applies only to civil cases, their remains some questions surrounding cases which appear before both the criminal and civil courts. If a driver apologizes for hitting a pedestrian in civil court, knowing that it is not admissible in the proceedings, does that put the driver at risk in the criminal courts as this Act would inapplicable in the criminal system?
The larger concern could stem from ‘false apologies’ that could appear as a means to appease mourning family members. If Bill 59 was to pass making it okay to say sorry without fear of civil reprisal, than what is to stop medical institutions from issuing a blanket “Just Say You’re Sorry” Policy…diminishing the real intent of a truly remorseful medical individual.I’m sorry for this piece… it’s not my fault!!

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