‘Sorry’ is not the hardest word

‘Sorry’ is not the hardest word

Urban myth has it that If you apologise for a collision, it is an admission of liability.

Urban myth also considers you liable if you offer to repair a scratched fairing or cracked mirror after a minor knock. This proposition is also nonsense. An apology, or offer to fix, is not an admission of liability. Said urban myth is unhelpfully recycled whenever you get one of those, ‘what to do In the event of a collision,’ cards with your Insurance certificates. Admit nothing and call us is the general gist. And here is your insurer’s motive: it is not to keep you from opening yourself (and your insurer) to liability for losses, it is so your incident gets filtered through the ‘collision management’ circus that pays insurers so handsomely.

If you decide to sort things out between yourselves, then the insurance brokers do not get the chance to: move your bike to a storage compound at £25 per day; arrange an engineer’s report at £180 (with the engineer assessing 20 or more vehicles at one location); keep the vehicle for three weeks; organise an exorbitantly priced hire vehicle at north of £100 per day and then inflate your premium for five years. The second ‘income stream’ is keeping the dispute open so both parties get spanked for five years’ worth of loading. And finally even if you have a non-fault prang, if it is run through your insurers the fact you have had a claim marks you as being a higher risk so you will get a loading.

Fair? No. But fairness is not a factor in insurance. The real law is simple: prior to the Compensation Act 2006 an apology for a collision was treated by the law as a matter of good manners with no legal consequence. Likewise, an offer of redress, if unaccepted, had no legal consequences. Occasionally when I was a junior lawyer I had equally junior opponents arguing that an apology amounted to an admission, but this got short shrift from every Judge who would, without fail, regard an apology as a normal human reaction and of no value in determining blame.

Since 2006 it is now a matter of clear statute that ‘an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress… shall not of itself amount to an admission.’ However, If you offer to repair someone else’s vehicle and they accept you have an agreement, that is different. That becomes a matter of contract…

To become formal, in Civil Law, and for an admission to be binding (and even then not totally binding) it must be in writing and is governed by Part 14 of the Civil Procedure Rules, and must follow a formal notification of a claim. And even in these formal circumstances the Courts are relatively forgiving about allowing a formal admission, in writing after having received legal advice to be withdrawn. So you saying ‘sorry’ for clipping a mirror and offering to pay is both good manners and legally irrelevant in so far as your insurers are concerned.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine June 2019

Disclaimer: The legal advice and statements contained within this/these articles is correct at the time of printing. If you are seeking legal advice after a motorbike accident please contact us to speak directly with one of our lawyers.


  1. This should be much more widely known. “Sorry mate” is a normal human reaction and goes a long way to calming a situation in many cases. We all make mistakes, and fortunately most are very minor and with no lasting consequence but when something does go wrong ( even if you aren’t culpable) you want the situation resolved, not a shouting match

  2. Robert ReadmanDecember 8, 2019

    Its good to hear that saying ‘Sorry’ is not an admission of guilt. Any British person can relate to being involved in a supermarket trolley collision, the other party is entirely to blame and they found themselves apologising for being crashed into.

  3. Surely if you are involved in any prang, you must inform your insurer, because that’s what the wording of your policy dictates?

    I got retrospectively hit by my car insurance for a dent I put in the rear bumper reversing into a tree that the parking sensors turned a blind eye to. Because it cost me less than the excess to repair the damage I didn’t think I had to report it – how wrong I was…!

  4. Andrew DaltonDecember 10, 2019

    Thanks gentlemen. Rob, I hope you are keeping up good English manners in the Antipodes and life treats you well. David, you are absolutely right. Saying sorry has not been an admission of guilt, in reality ever and clearly not as a matter of law since 1981. But Andy, if you knock your own car into a stationary object I am far from sure your insurers need to know. If you trapped a passengers fingers in the door, would this be an injury accident you would have to report? Insurers can and do load you up for the most specious grounds. I can tell you that if I knocked my van (I don’t own a car) into a tree and put a wee dink in it, and paid for it to be repaired, I would feel no compulsion to tell my insurer.

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Posted by Andrew Dalton. Last modified: April 29, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Andrew Dalton is a highly experienced trial lawyer who delights in taking on difficult and demanding motorcycle cases. He has a tough and relentless litigation style and is utterly focused on getting the best possible outcomes for his clients.

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