For some, it's a nervous tic, for others, a religious imperative, but for one woman, two simple words cost her her life savings.
"Looking back I can see I shouldn't have said 'I'm sorry,' but I felt so bad for the girl. I saw her fly off her bike and hit her head on my hood. Good thing she had a helmet. Her legs were in the air like a rag doll and then she landed in a rhododendron bush."
The driver was nearing the exit of a parking lot when the bicycle hit the side of her car. The cyclist, in a rush to get to her Latin class, careened through an arch cut from a holly bush. The driver says she knew better than to move the body of the cyclist since she had recently completed first aid training for her job as a residential counselor, so she called 911 instead.
"I wanted to do more, though," she says. "I was worried about her and over the next couple of days I wanted to call to make sure she was all right, but my insurance agent told me I couldn't. They said I'd already made enough mess of the case."
A representative from AutoJustice affirms the driver's claim. "Our role and that of our clients is to let the system take care of things. Our role and that of our clients is not to become emotionally entangled with the contenders we face on our route to justice, nor is it to admit fault before the justice system has determined who is really at fault."
In this case, the driver was found to be at fault since she was heard saying she was sorry to the cyclist by numerous witnesses gathered at the site. "We heard a scream and then sirens and we all wanted to see how the EMTs were going to get the girl untangled from the bush," a business student, said.
"The rhododendrons were in full bloom, said another bystander, a botany student, "sort of like they were trying to hold the girl and protect her from us."
"Drivers are the villains, cars are, too," said an environmental studies student. "Whether or not it was the driver's fault, it was the driver's fault."
The insurance company determined the driver needed to pay the medical and reparation fees since she violated her policy. The amount she owes is estimated at $20,000.
"It says clearly in every policy covered by AutoJustice that apologies should not be made at the scenes of conflict. The words imply fault and for that we can't be held responsible."
The driver said she has been saving 10% of her salary for the last ten years and has just the amount needed to cover the costs associated with the accident. "It's like I've been preparing for this incident for my entire career," she reported with a sniffle.