An Apology to Skip the Courtroom

'My mistake, I'm sorry" may be all it takes to lower the number of lawsuits in our legal system. Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia found that a full apology can avert lawsuits; promoting the more amicable and less costly use of settlements to resolve legal conflict.

"The conventional wisdom has been: Don't apologize," says Jennifer Robbennolt, study author and professor of law at Missouri. By the time a case reaches the courtroom, forgiveness may be taken as an admission of guilt. "Maybe we ought to rethink that," she argues.

Robbennolt asked 145 volunteers what they would do in a theoretical situation where they were injured by a cyclist. When given a full apology, 73 percent chose the settlement offer. A partial apology, an expression of sympathy while accepting no responsibility of guilt, led to 52 percent settling. Without any apology, 35 percent chose a settlement over a trail.

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"It changes the recipient's perception about the other person," explains Robbennolt "With a full apology, people were more likely to think that the wrongdoer would be more careful in the future and would have more regret."

Robbennolt plans to do follow-up research to see if apologies could work at a corporate level. The study is to be published in the December issue of the Michigan Law Review.

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