By SooToday.com Staff
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
DAVID ORAZIETTI, MPP
MPP advocates for improved civil dispute resolution
Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti's bill would make apologies inadmissible in civil court
QUEEN'S PARK - (April 15) - Today in the Ontario Legislature, Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti introduced a bill that would allow an individual or organization to offer an apology as part of the dispute resolution process without concern over legal liability.
The Apology Act provides that an apology made in relation to a civil matter does not constitute an admission of fault or liability and would not be admissible in a civil proceeding.
"The apology act would enhance the dispute resolution process by allowing all Ontarians to communicate genuine compassion, sorrow and regret for a mistake without worrying that it could later be used against them in civil court," said Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti.
"Other jurisdictions that have implemented this type of legislation have seen a reduction of pressure on their civil courts as well as reduced costs to public institutions, such as hospitals," Orazietti said.
Currently, many professionals are advised by legal council and insurance companies not to apologize in cases of alleged wrongdoing out of concern that it could later be used in court as evidence of liability.
Studies have shown, however, that an apology can aid in resolving a dispute.
The America Bar Association Journal cites that 30 percent of all plaintiffs would not have sued had an apology been given.
"The Ontario Bar Association (OBA) supports apology act legislation and has advised the attorney general of their desire to see such legislation pass the House," said Greg Goulin, president of the Ontario Bar Association.
While this act would apply to all Ontarians, it has particular significance to the health-care community, which has traditionally been advised not to apologize in the case of medical error due to concerns over legal liability.
A study cited in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education states that 37 percent of patients filing medical malpractice suits may not have done so had an apology been given.
Removing the threat of litigation from an apology will help improve communication between doctors and patients, resulting in patients being better informed and allowing doctors to worry less about legal issues and focus on their patient's health.
"An apology act is an important step forward for the people of Ontario and it is consistent with our recently released Canadian disclosure guidelines, which aim to increase honest and open communication among health care professionals, patients and the public," said Philip Hassen, CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute.
"The proposed apology act and the guidelines are proof of a cultural shift underway in society recognizing that offering a sincere apology or expression of regret is simply the right thing to do in often very difficult and emotional circumstances. It is a sign of caring, compassion and empathy not blame or guilt," Hassen said.
"Ontario doctors support apology legislation because it will enable health-care professionals to focus on patient needs during difficult times," said Dr. Janice Willett, president of the Ontario Medical Association. "This will put Ontario in line with other provinces and enhance the ability of doctors and nurses to communicate with their patients."
Many U.S. hospitals have implemented a policy of apologizing to their patients, and results have been overwhelmingly positive.
In 2002 the hospitals in the University of Michigan's health system began to encourage doctors to apologize for mistakes.
Since then, malpractice lawsuits and notices of intent to sue have fallen from 262 filed in 2001 to an average of 130 per year, and annual attorney fees have dropped from $3 million to $1 million.
Ontario hospitals are hoping to see similar effects from this legislation.
"The Ontario Hospital Association welcomes the introduction of the Apology Act, 2008, and sees it as a critical next step in furthering disclosure initiatives to improve patient safety in Ontario," said Tom Closson, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association.
"This legislation will help to ensure that apologies, along with open and frank discussion between patients and their health care providers, are an important part of the care experience at our province's hospitals. This is good news for the people of Ontario," Closson said.
Similar legislation has been adopted in other Canadian jurisdictions.
British Columbia passed a comprehensive apology act in 2006, Saskatchewan amended its evidence act to include apology legislation in May of 2007, and Manitoba adopted a bill similar to British Columbia's in November of 2007.
In 2007, the Uniform Law Conference of Canada passed a resolution recommending all provinces adopt apology legislation either as an amendment to the evidence code or as a stand alone act.
As well, 35 U.S. states have some form of apology legislation.