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To sue or not to sue

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To sue or not to sue

By Geronimo L. Sy

IF the only permanent thing is change, then conflict is also permanent as all change involves conflict.

How do we manage conflict? At the simplest, it is to avoid, to ignore, or to accept. The change is agreed to indirectly. In more evolved scenarios, the parties discuss to understand the source of the conflict and to find ways to solve and resolve. At its most evil form, it is to resolve the disagreement by killing the other party. In a tragic way, this is also the simplest way — with one, any or all of the protagonists gone away for good.

At the most complex, it will involve dispute resolution usually through the court system. This is called the formal justice system where an impartial and fair judge hears both sides of the case argued by modern-day gladiators, lawyers. There are laws to obey and rules of procedure to follow. There are other players like clerks of court, stenographers, sheriffs, and interpreters. For any person who has been involved in a case, it is a life-changing experience in many ways.

The stress, the long waits, the intrigues, the documents are but the visible features. Then there are the expenses of a lawsuit from filing fees, attorney’s fees and out-of-pocket and hole-in-the-pocket expenses. The drag of court cases have caused many litigants to ask themselves the timeless question — “to be or not to be.”

Hence, before deciding to sue or not to sue when conflict arises, it may be wise to understand the pros and cons and when resort to courts is the only or best remedy.

In our collective experience, when the issue involves family and close friends, seeing them in court is a saddest thing. This is especially true when spouses sue each other, or when children fight over inheritance. When the conflict is formalized in pleading documents, the chance of a happy resolution is very low; the choice of reconciliation is almost zero. Do not sue and let charity (and karma) take its course.

In situations of conflict in business involving clients, suppliers, employees or partners, the approach is to look for other clients and better suppliers and continue to build the company learning from mistakes. It is more productive and financially rewarding in the long term. It is always prudent to research and know those whom we deal with. For employees, the betrayal of trust takes on a different angle. The hurt, the losses and the justification to teach other employees a lesson often leads to charges. Sue if you must but do not make it a personal mission. It is a business decision.

When it involves partners, treat it as a family issue. We often hear the counsel to not enter into business with family or friends, it is because it mixes and confuses the relations and the consequent expectations and responses. Do not sue but partition the assets or divvy the shares while looking at the big picture. There are opportunities still.

In the wider society, there is a range of wrongful or illegal actions. In the case of vehicular accidents involving damage to property, do not sue. It is easier to fix the car than fixing the case. It is different when lives are lost or when buses become motorized coffins. Sue because justice demands it and public interest requires it. It is the same imperative for crimes involving life or liberty.

In theft of property, the amount involved becomes a determinant. Based on current values and given the attendant costs and resources needed, do not sue if it is less than P500,000. It does not make economic sense. Even if it goes beyond this threshold, over time the delays will add up. So do not sue unless it makes common sense. A decision tree is helpful.

If legal action is the only recourse, plan for it like a project. It is reckless to see you anyone in court without being prepared physically, mentally, psychologically and financially. It is more strenuous than a triathlon.

If a case is actually filed, the options for the respondents are two — one is to settle or compromise to not be sued at all or further. The second is to dig in and fight when the suit is going for more than the arm and the leg. The points to consider are similar to when one is considering to answer or to counter sue.

From a philosophical perspective, life is too short to spend in courtrooms and in litigation. But when the justice process is fast, it can be answer to the question of “to sue or not to sue.” When the justice system is fair, it can handle conflicts that lead to acceptance of resolutions, to peace this season and beyond.