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Guy Corbet on the Apology Clause campaign

The Apology Clause campaign makes it easier for businesses to behave with compassion when things go wrong, and thus for victims to have better recoveries. 

A typical crisis scene

This scene may be familiar. In the crisis room. Phone ringing off the hook. Screens scrolling with ever-more irate emails and social. Nobody has slept. The client is near meltdown. Chewed up by feelings of sorrow, injustice, rage, confusion, frustration, fear and exhaustion. The focus is immediate. Not many are thinking about the long route back to restoring the business’s reputation. Little is known about what happened. Someone is finding out but it will take too long. People have suffered. Perhaps badly. It is not their fault. It may not be the client’s, but it was on their watch.

What should a client say? “We are sorry for the way that you feel”?

Very often that is as close as the naturally cautious lawyers and insurers will allow the business to go. Their jobs are to protect the legal and financial position, not the business’s reputation or, importantly, the people that have been harmed.

Those non-apologies rarely wash with anyone. It is not the lawyer that will have to read it out. But you might have to. Or your client. And you know the reaction will be eviscerating. You know it because that’s how you feel too.

Tales of fumbled apologies

When a United Airlines passenger was filmed being dragged kicking and screaming off one of their flights, the CEO’s first statement said: “I apologise for having to re-accommodate these customers”. Really? Did anyone think that didn’t sound foolish?

Faizah Shaheen was detained at the airport after flying back from her honeymoon on Thomson Airlines for reading a book about Syrian art. The airline said: “We're really sorry if Ms Shaheen remains unhappy with how she feels she was treated”. She had read a book.

These stories of fumbled apologies go on. Everyone knows one.

The difficulty is partly that they are no good for businesses if they cannot behave with compassion, do the right thing, or protect their reputation.It is worse for the people affected. The act of an apology can make a big difference in how people move on from traumatic events in their lives if, indeed, they are able to.

Sometimes when bad things have happened people internalise events by concluding it must somehow have been their fault. That can mean they stay frozen in the moment of their deepest trauma, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

How to say sorry

A simple apology can sometimes lift that burden and enable them to move on. To rebuild. To get back to a semblance of normality.

Of course, usually the thing that has gone wrong will not be life changing. Someone may have slipped over in a department store. But the principles are the same. A well-turned and meaningful apology, which includes an explanation of how the matter will be avoided in future, can resolve a situation so everyone can move on cheerfully.

The law supports apologies. The Compensation Act 2006 says “an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty”. The difficulty, though, is that this clause is not well known by businesses, lawyers and insurance companies. Even if it is known, the legislation is largely untested so lawyers resist using it.

Our campaign is to change that. To raise awareness of the law. To get it used more often and, ultimately, to get it clarified through case law or with a new act of parliament. Please help us do that by committing to support the campaign, encouraging businesses to do so too, by signing the petition and by sharing this blog.

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