Sorry needn’t be the hardest word

We all want businesses and organisations to do the right thing.  So when things go wrong we expect them to say sorry.  The reality can often be quite different. Businesses may be reticent in apologising for fear of admitting liability, being sued or facing rising insurance premiums.

Yet the Compensation Act 2006 makes it very clear that “an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty”.

This clause is not sufficiently well known or tested in case law for many lawyers to feel confident advising their clients to do the right thing.  Consequently, the lack of an apology often makes it harder for the victims to move on from the trauma, particularly when human tragedy is involved.

Evidence shows that a clear apology can help victims get the closure they need to be able to move on from trauma.  A common side-effect of trauma is that victims blame themselves, which is more likely to occur if others shun responsibility.

More regular use of the apology clause, or a simple clarification of the Compensation Act 2006 would give lawyers and other advisers more confidence in recommending their client do the right thing.

We believe this is needed, so we are calling for:

  • Greater awareness of the apology clause through the business world
  • Increased use of the clause so lawyers and business become increasingly comfortable using it
  • Better understanding among insurers, to make it easier for businesses to do the right thing without concern about redress
  • Clarification of the law: to define what it means by an apology, the scope of matters that it relates to, whether an apology is deemed in legal terms to be an admission, or if it is simply not admissible as an admission of liability, or whether an apology would void insurance contracts
  • An undertaking that an apology should include a commitment to look at the circumstances behind the event, with a view to preventing it from happening again.