One of the interesting aspects of writing this blog is I get to see the keywords that people use to find me. My audience frequently searches the title above to land at my blog. I have posted previously ("Think Before You Sue"), but I think it is tremendously important in the current economy to re-visit this issue.
Lawsuits do not usually end well. I think the media has given us an unrealistic picture of the rare windfalls that can occur after going through a court proceeding. So many clients have told me they want "justice." I try to point out that a group of twelve strangers or a judge are not necessarily going to provide a just result. So many factors influence the behavior of the decision-makers that it is not realistic to think that one is going to achieve a storybook verdict.
At the end of a lawsuit, if the parties do not settle, one side receives a judgment. Frequently that is only the beginning. Enforcing the judgment and collecting on it is a whole other matter. Most people do not have readily accessible funds to pay a judgment. Even if they hold a valuable asset, one still has to force the sale of the asset if one hopes to collect.
So, rather than end this post on a discouraging note, I want to remind my readers of the following:
1. Start all construction projects with a good contract. This document spells out the understanding and intentions of the parties. A wonderful arbitrator I arbitrated with last week said ideally, the contract should sit on a shelf and collect dust once it has achieved its purpose.
2. Maintain good communication throughout the project. If problems arise, deal with them quickly and be honest. It is not surprising to me when I meet great contractors who tell me they have never been sued. Great contractors are usually great communicators as well.
3. Be realistic. Many of the disputes that I see occur because parties have unrealistic expectations. There are some people who simply expect perfection, and that just does not occur. When I was buying my house, my cousin said, "When you look at a house, you should keep one eye closed." I think there is a great deal of truth to that statement.
4. Try to resolve your disputes. Settlements are always better. Yes, I mean always. Statistics have shown that people tend to comply more with settlements than judgments. In addition, a settlement is something that you have control over.
After all, isn't justice when you have a say in the result?