Apologies Aren’t Admissions (In Legal Proceedings)

Apologies are one of the things for which Canadians are known internationally. In Canada, “I’m sorry” is used even in situations where we carry no responsibility, or where others might view it as unwarranted. For example, two people to bump into one another and both apologize despite no real fault, intent or damage, but it keeps things pleasant and allows everyone to carry on without noteworthy altercation.

Apologies come in many shapes and sizes, but apologies serve a fundamental role in our society. Even a simple apology can convey remorse where time is limited or words are failing. In fact, apologies are so sacrosanct that most Canadian courts have endeavored to keep apologies out of determinations of fault in the legal context. In British Columbia, the Apology Act, SBC 2006, c 19, prevents apologies from constituting admissions of fault or liability in most, if not all, circumstances. The Act is designed to be broad, and it is designed to keep the legal system from overanalyzing and interfering with such an important aspect of our society. Even attempts to exclude apologies result in oddly formal definitions of what exactly an apology is, such as the definition in the Act:

“apology” means an expression of sympathy or regret, a statement that one is sorry or any other words or actions indicating contrition or commiseration, whether or not the words or actions admit or imply an admission of fault in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate.

It makes sense when you think about it. Sometimes apologies are so heartfelt and sincere that they carry far more weight and importance than any other type of relief that could be sought. At one extreme, claims might be carried through the courts solely because someone had not apologized. Other times, apologies are made more as a matter of empathy and regret of circumstances, rather than an intended admission of fault. In such cases, it would be unfair to hold someone to blame and could lead to come absurd results. It is also hard to imagine a Court ordered apology feeling like anything other than an empty obligation, and no doubt judges do not want to be ordering parties to “say it like they mean it”.

In short, if you are trying to prove fault or liability of another party, you are going to need more than an apology. But, if you are feeling the need, don’t let the specter of a legal claim prevent you from saying “I’m sorry”.

Whether a claim is being made for or against you, litigation is a complex and serious process. It is best to contact a litigation lawyer early, and prior to the commencement of a claim if possible, for assistance in weighing options and navigating the complexities of the legal system.

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