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Accept Responsibility in Lawsuits

Originally posted on Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

I just read that the pilot of the ferry, responsible for the 2003 deadly crash that occurred in New York Harbor, apologized for his actions. He stated “I was on the wheel. I was responsible. I stand ready to suffer the consequences.”

This ferry pilot was delivering his apology to the families affected by the crash that killed 11 people. He was accepting responsibility at the sentencing of his criminal hearing. Unfortunately, the morning of the crash, this pilot decided to captain his vessel while suffering from extreme fatigue and being on pain killers. According to him, he blacked out. Afterward, he fled from the accident and lied to authorities about his medical history.

In the Virginia and South Carolina jury trials that I have recently tried, I regularly see defendants refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. In fact, defense attorneys use something like this “We are not at fault, but if we are at fault, we did not cause the injuries, but if we caused the injuries, the injuries are not that severe, but if the injuries were severe, the plaintiff somehow contributed to their own injuries or did not get proper care.”

For some reason, defendants have failed to learn the simple lesson that we were taught in elementary school about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. It is said that when his father angrily confronted the young Washington for his actions, rather than lying or running from it, Washington admitted that “I did it, I chopped down the cherry tree”.

A house bill is currently pending in the Virginia General Assembly (House Bill 289) that deals with expressions of sympathy which allows doctors to admit that they are at fault. Saying you are sorry is not admissible in a civil case but at least it allows doctors to admit responsibility for their mistakes rather than hiding behind some defense attorney’s lame excuse. Hopefully this bill will pass in this session, and make some progress in the acceptance of responsibility.

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