Litigation is when someone sues someone else in court. A civil case can take a couple years to resolve. At the time of this writing, a civil complaint in a district court in Utah costs $360 just to file. When you’re also paying an attorney by the hour, the costs can add up.
Before giving some tips on how to avoid litigation, it should be pointed out that people are entitled to sue other people where there is a valid claim. Nothing you do can guarantee you won’t be sued. But here are a few tips for avoiding expensive and protracted litigation. These tips aren’t rocket science. There’s nothing like long and expensive litigation to make a person wish that the clock could be turned back and other efforts made to avoid litigation.
Be Careful What You Sign. Our firm deals with a lot of disputes about contracts. People often sign contracts without reading them, which is not entirely surprising. Take a real estate purchase–if you go to buy a new home and you are seeking bank financing, you may find yourself sitting in a title company’s conference room table signing a thick pile of documents, none of which are easily understood. Each contract represents a set of promises that you are undertaking.
While a real estate closing is an extreme example, we often talk to people who signed a document and did not read it first. Common examples are: friends signing an agreement to go into business together, neighbors signing an agreement over where to put in a fence or how to pay for it, a parent signing a release for a child to engage in an activity, a person lending her brother a sum of money to start a business, someone purchasing a car from a stranger, etc.
These everyday examples create some hazards. It is advisable to have an attorney prepare the paperwork or review it prior to signing. How many times have we seen someone ask for help after signing a poor contract rather than before!
Work Things Out. We deal with a lot of business disputes, where former friends are now in the midst of an ugly lawsuit that feels more like a divorce than a contract dispute. So often, a small misunderstanding escalates into bigger ones and finally erupts into a full-out courtroom battle. Emails are misconstrued, promises are understood where none were intended, friendships are broken, confidences are made public.
I know it’s easier said than done, but TRY TO WORK IT OUT. Don’t get me wrong–there’s a proper place for litigation–when parties to a dispute cannot resolve it, there’s nothing wrong in seeking a court’s oversight of the dispute. But litigation should only take place after the parties have attempted to work things out. Often, attorneys can help broker peace when the parties are willing to sit down and resolve their differences, such as through mediation or formal settlement discussion.
Be Careful Where You Spend Your Money! We see a fair number of people complaining about someone taking their money and misusing it. Perhaps they were enticed into purchasing something that wasn’t what it was made out to be. Or they were persuaded to invest in a company or an idea that never got off the ground. I would advise anyone who thinks they’ve found a way to make easy money, or who have found a can’t-miss investment or opportunity, to call a lawyer and sit down and talk through it. Many of the unfortunate things I see could have been avoided with a short consultation.
I could go on–there are many things you can do to attempt to avoid litigation. As I mentioned, these three tips likely aren’t mind-bogglingly insightful, but abiding by them should help avoid a fair number of senseless disputes.