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June 13, 2017

Apology? In Litigation? Really?

“I wouldn’t even be in your law office if he had said he was sorry.”

Countless clients have begun our relationship with this simple statement. Why wouldn’t a person who caused an accident resulting in serious injury say this simple thing? There are a lot of reasons. First, the insurance company had probably warned the person not to do so. And there is fear that the apology will result in a finding of fault in court. But in one case, and then many others, a simple apology worked a miracle.

The 87 year-old-client had put her only relative, an Alzheimer stricken sister, in a high quality nursing facility with the warning that “she will try to escape.” She did and was caught. But the next day the attempt was successful. Despite hundreds of police officer hours and thousand of dollars, her skeleton was not found until 6 months later.  During that time, the client was grief-stricken all day, every day. Was her sister alive? Suffering? Had she been kidnapped? Was she hurt and in pain (physical and mental?). When the nursing facility offered to settle the claim, the clients response was terse: “I will never settle with those bastards after the pain they caused my sister and me.”

What should a lawyer do? Somehow, watching this frail person spend the last few years of her life in litigation did not seem like the answer. "What if the directors of the nursing home came and listened to you detail your suffering?” “They won’t do that.” “Okay, but suppose they will and apologize for the pain they caused?” The meeting was arranged. The directors were warned to expect shouting, rage and hate. But they agreed to attend. The meeting was exactly that.

At the end, the directors each acknowledged that the suffering would have been unbearable and expressed sincere apology. They went on to describe how the facility had to bring in psychologists to help their staff deal with the guilt, shame and grieving that they suffered. And they explained the new procedure that would equip each Alzheimer patient with an ankle devise that would sound an alarm if the patient approached an exit and would automatically lock that door.

The meeting resulted in settlement of the case, and allowed the grieving sister to return to a more normal life.

The experience led us to ask our clients, if an apology would help them recover. Many said “yes” and the apology meeting almost always resulted in healing of the people on both sides. Apology meetings became one of the most satisfying parts of our law practice.

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