Apologies, lawsuits and John Wayne

We live in a society where apologies seem out of fashion. John Wayne is quoted as saying: “Never apologize and never explain. It’s a sign of weakness.” But what should you say if you are involved in an accident and someone else is injured? It is only natural to show concern for another person’s suffering. Does it show weakness? And can it be used against you in later litigation?
Tennessee courts disallow evidence of expressions of “sympathy or a general sense of benevolence” relating to the suffering or death of a person involved in an accident. The rule disallows evidence of statements such as “I’m sorry you were hurt” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” This rule is, however, narrow.
There is an important difference between expressing sympathy and admitting fault. A statement that includes an admission of fault may be used against you at trial. For example, the statements “I’m sorry I ran the red light” and “I should have been more careful” are quite different than an expression of sympathy. These admissions of fault can be used against you at trial. It is important that you word your statements carefully.
This rule is designed to help parties freely express sympathy while trying to settle lawsuits. With the help of experienced trial counsel, a properly-worded expression of sympathy can be a powerful step toward conciliation and resolution of conflict. But it is wise to seek the advice of your lawyer before making any statements.