Hard to Say You’re Sorry: Understanding Nova Scotia’s Apology Act

By Daniel F. Roper

Did you rear-end someone waiting at a red light? Or accidentally bump someone into a display of soda that comes crashing down on them in the supermarket? Did you inadvertently cut down a tree on your neighbour’s property?

“These scenarios might lead to an apology on your part,” explains Daniel Roper, a lawyer with Burchell MacDougall’s Truro office, “But what you say in the moment is important from a legal standpoint and could lead to problems down the road.”

Many Canadian provinces have enacted laws that deal with the legal effect of apologies. In Nova Scotia, the Apology Act, defines an apology as “an expression of sympathy or regret, a statement that one is sorry or any other words or actions indicating contrition or commiseration, whether or not the words or actions admit or imply an admission of fault in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate.”

“The Apology Act confirms that an apology is not admissible in a trial for the purposes of establishing liability, or legal responsibility, and will not, in itself, void insurance coverage,” he goes on, “The danger, however, in making any apology is that what is expressed may go beyond an apology and amount to an admission of liability.”

In Ontario, similar legislation was considered in the case of Coles v Takata Corp., 2016 ONSC 4885, where the court discussed the use of an apology in the context of a court case: “[an apology] can be the subject of examinations for discovery. The purpose of the examination would be to discover whether the statement alleged to be an apology is indeed an apology and to determine whether there are portions of the statement that are relevant non-apologetic evidence of liability.”

Ultimately, if there is a disagreement about whether an apology was, in fact, an apology, the court will be required to decide whether what was said falls within the definition set out in the Apology Act.

“While not always practical given the unexpected nature of accidents,” Daniel concludes, “it is always best to seek the advice of a lawyer before discussing an accident with another person.”

This article is for information only and is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions or would like further information, you should consult a lawyer.