News: Ontario, Canada, considers an Apology Act

October 1, 2008

Legislation allowing an apology as part of the dispute resolution process without concern over legal liability has been introduced in Ontario, Canada.

Legislation that would allows an individual or organization to offer an apology as part of the dispute resolution process without concern over legal liability has been introduced in the Ontario, Canada, legislature, according to a report in Medical Liability Monitor (7/2008). The Apology Act provides that an apology made with regard to a civil matter does not constitute an admission of fault and would not be admissible in a civil proceeding. Other Canadian jurisdictions have adopted similar legislation. At least 35 US states also have adopted apology laws.

Lawyers and insurance companies often advise health-care professionals not to apologize in cases of alleged wrongdoing because they fear that the apology could later be used in court as evidence of liability. Yet studies have shown that an apology can help resolve a dispute because many potential plaintiffs do not sue a doctor who has apologized for a mistake. This is borne out by the experience of the hospitals in the University of Michigan's Health System, which in 2002 began to encourage doctors to apologize for mistakes. Since then, malpractice lawsuits and notices of intent to sue have fallen from 262 in 2001 to an average of 130 per year.