Ontario Liberal backbencher David Orazietti thinks it's wrong that going to court means never having to say you're sorry, so he introduced the apology act in the provincial legislature Tuesday in hopes of encouraging more people to offer sincere regrets for their mistakes.
The law must be changed to allow everyone — including doctors, nurses and police — to apologize for their errors without worrying about having their statements used against them in civil court, Orazietti said.
British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have similar apology laws, as do 35 U.S. states. Those laws have been very helpful in bringing people together to resolve conflicts and in lowering costs by eliminating the need for some court fights, Orazietti said.
"The evidence seems to indicate that it is welcome — if, for example, we use the health-care sector — by patients, by medical professionals, and it's also welcomed by hospitals," he told a news conference.
"It has substantially reduced lawsuits and settlements and claims in the court system because people were able to have a discussion about what's taken place and bring closure to a particular issue."
Orazietti said even though his law would apply to all Ontarians, it has special significance in health care, where professionals are generally advised not to apologize for medical errors because it could later be used in civil courts.
Apologies reduce lawsuits: study
A recent study by the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education found that 37 per cent of patients filing medical malpractice suits may not have done so if they'd been given an apology, he said.
Patients' rights advocates said Tuesday that the apology act would allow someone who makes a mistake to respond in a more humane way without worrying about having it used against them down the road.
"There are recent studies showing that physicians and nurses want to apologize, but worry that an expression of regret, an apology, might be construed by the patient and the family as an admission of legal liability," said Philip Hassen, CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that; it's a human response that we certainly want people to undertake."
The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario said patients greatly appreciate it when a medical professional apologizes for a mistake, but added that rarely happens because lawyers and insurance companies advise against it.
"Without this legislation, not only would an apology put the nurse and others in legal jeopardy, it could seriously impair the nurse's employers ability to defend any legal action rising out of an adverse event," said RNAO executive director Doris Grinspun.
"Because of that, an apology could also void the health-care facility's insurance coverage."
'Makes sense,' AG says
Private member's bills like Orazietti's rarely become law in Ontario, but Attorney General Chris Bentley said Tuesday that he wants to look into the ramifications of adopting the legislation, and both opposition parties said they like the idea.
"It just struck me as the type of thing that makes sense," said Bentley.
"Most people would think that getting an apology out is what many would like to do in their hearts, and over the years legal proceedings seem to have got in the way of what many people think would be appropriate."
Opposition house leader Bob Runciman said Orazietti's apology act is "worth looking at," and while the New Democrats support the general idea, they also want to make sure it doesn't end up hurting victims.
"Let's understand that at the end of the day, most injured parties deserve financial compensation, which is more than a mere apology," said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos.