The (non-existent) legal risks of apologising: Courts do not see apologies as a way to accept civil liability

Lianne Wijntjens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Psychological research shows that apologies can have many positive effects. However, in a legal context, the positive potential of apologies could be complicated when legal proceedings raise barriers to apologising. Ideally, legal proceedings should encourage wrongdoers to apologise rather than discourage them. There is still much debate about the legal consequences of apologising. According to popular wisdom, persons who face the prospect of being blamed for an act should avoid apologising. Offering an apology would be risky because the apology could be interpreted as an admission of liability. The question is whether this reticence is justified. For many jurisdictions, we still know little about the exact role that apologies play in judicial decision-making. This paper provides a detailed and structured overview of how apologies can play a role in judicial decision-making in a civil law legal system. A structured content analysis was conducted, in which almost 4,000 Dutch judgments were analysed. The research findings show that the role apologies can play in legal decision-making is much more complex than previously assumed in the literature. This study shows that different modalities can be distinguished. Apologies almost never appear to lead to negative legal consequences, and, in many cases, apologising actually has legal benefits for the provider of such apology. Also, the case law analysis highlights that there are ways to encourage apologising in legal proceedings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-301
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of European Tort Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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