Prue Vines, ‘Apologies as “Canaries” – Tortious Liability in Negligence and Insurance in the Twenty-First Century’

Abstract
The relationship between tort liability in negligence and insurance is significant, although for most of the twentieth century insurance was ignored in determining liability, despite the massive rise in insurance. Although the determination of liability in negligence typically ignores the existence of insurance, it is there in the background (sometimes driving tort reform) and, if it fails it can be catastrophic for the defendant. The extent to which insurance should be taken into account in considering liability is controversial; this chapter argues that it should only be permissible where the insurance is compulsory or universal, but that it is vital to consider the socio-legal or external power of insurance in relation to tort law because of its importance for access to justice. Insurance contracts typically regulate the relationship between the insured and tortious liability. In most jurisdictions liability insurance contracts contain a provision which makes the contract void if the insured makes an admission against interest. This is traditionally taken to include an apology, hence the commonly repeated advice not to apologise after an accident. The question of whether an apology is an admission is not necessarily clear in the absence of apology-protective legislation. Cases have decided this differently both across and within jurisdictions, although the better view in Australia and the UK is that an apology is not an admission of liability in negligence. This paper attempts to map out the law on apologies and insurance and argues that what is vital is that the liability regime and the insurance regime have some congruence in terms of access to justice and that the apology may serve as a ‘canary’ in the mine of liability – to show whether there is proper congruence or not.

Vines, Prue E, Apologies as ‘Canaries’ – Tortious Liability in Negligence and Insurance in the Twenty-First Century (January 1, 2017). In Kit Barker, Karen Fairweather and Ross Grantham (eds), Private Law in the 21st Century (Hart Publishing, 2017); UNSW Law Research Paper No 18-78.

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