Tort law currently debates the value of facilitating apology in order to enhance the restoration of victims’ non-material needs, and to promote dispute resolution. However, the extent to which apology can augment these outcomes beyond conventional, monetary reparations is not yet clear. The present research aimed to provide some first insights into this question, by means of two experimental studies conducted among community members recruited through MTurk (Study 1) and Prolific (Study 2). Participants imagined a scenario in which they became victims of a traffic accident. Study 1 (N = 81, 42 men, 39 women, Mage = 35.90) manipulated the resulting harm (personal injury or property loss) to examine which needs participants experienced, and what remedies (apology, compensation) they desired. Factor analysis revealed (non-material) needs for interpersonal treatment, responsibility taking, closure, and punishment, and (material) needs for compensation; these needs were as prominent after property loss as after personal injury. Non-material needs predicted greater desire for apology (and not compensation). Study 2 (N = 485, 286 men, 199 women, Mage = 31.03) examined how these remedies impacted the satisfaction of these needs and dispute resolution by manipulating apology (no apology, apology), compensation level (partial, approximate, or exact), and harm within the same scenario. Apologies enhanced the restoration of participants’ non-material needs. However, settlement remained mostly contingent on compensation: (modest) effects of apology were restricted to partial compensation. These findings therefore imply that apologies could augment victims’ restoration after torts, but may be limited as a catalyst for settlement.

, , , ,,
Law and Human Behavior

Public Significance Statement: This study provides preliminary evidence on the relative value of apology and compensation in tort litigation. It suggests that apologies can fulfill important needs of victims (e.g., acceptance of responsibility, acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and retribution) that compensating their losses cannot. However, for resolving their disputes, participants nevertheless based their decisions mainly on how much money they were offered in settlement. This suggests that beliefs about the effectiveness of apology as a catalyst for settlement may be overly optimistic.

Private Law

Reinders Folmer, C., Desmet, P., & van Boom, W. (2019). Beyond compensation? Examining the role of apologies in the restoration of victims’ needs in simulated tort cases. Law and Human Behavior, 43(4), 329–341. doi:10.1037/lhb0000335