The other day, my family and I picked up some fast food on our way home from an outing. Despite knowing better, my wife and I failed to verify at the drive thru that the food we ordered was the same as the food placed in the bag. Several miles later, we opened the bag and realized we did not receive everything we paid for. We were entitled to the food we had purchased, but we decided not to return to the restaurant because it simply was not worth our time and effort (not to mention gasoline) to claim what was rightfully ours.
In the 1955 film version of the Broadway play Guys and Dolls, the character Miss Adelaide, played by Vivian Blaine, expresses her frustration with her fiance’s lack of commitment. The fiancé, Frank Sinatra’s character Nathan Detroit, tries to assuage Adelaide by crooning the words “Call a lawyer and sue me, sue me, what can you do me? I love you.” Naturally, Detroit’s invitation to sue was merely rhetorical, and Adelaide does not take him to court. Rather, by the film’s end, Detroit and Adelaide predictably end up getting married. While many of us have heard or said the words “so sue me” (usually spoken in jest), just as in Guys and Dolls, disputes are often better resolved without resorting to litigation.
Of course litigation may be used to accomplish much good. The courts are necessary in many cases to help maintain an ordered society. For example, appeal to a court is often necessary to determine the meaning of contracts, grant custody rights, to clarify ownership rights, and generally to bring some degree of justice to those who deliberately engage in harmful or even criminal wrongdoing. Of course open access to the courts is at times abused by frivolous lawsuits, but even those lawsuits that are justified are not always well-advised.
Some of the reasons why litigation may not always be the best option are explained by one of this country’s most famous lawyers, Abraham Lincoln, in counsel he prepared for others of his profession:
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time.
In a similar tone, former U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger called our society’s reliance on the judicial system as the primary means for resolving claims “a mistake that must be corrected,” and stated that the adversary system “is too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for a truly civilized people.”
In our experience, many disputes can be resolved without resorting to litigation, saving both sides significant time, money and stress. Even when a lawsuit is not filed, an attorney can be a valuable and helpful ally in seeking amicable and peaceful resolution of disputes. Whether you have a dispute that may be resolved without going to court, or requires the finality and authority of a court of law, we invite you to meet with us to discuss how we can assist you in understanding your responsibilities while preserving your rights.
Attorney Profile: Nathaniel H. Wadsworth, Litigation Attorney