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Legal VIEW

Some Lawsuits Aren't Worth the Effort

July 16, 1987|JEFFREY S. KLEIN

To sue or not to sue; that is the question.

My apologies to Shakespeare, but sometimes I forget to answer that question when I write this column. I explain the law, legal rights and methods to pursue those rights but neglect to mention whether the pursuit of those rights is worth the time and effort it inevitably takes.

Sometimes, I may even inadvertently encourage lawsuits that should never be filed.

Lawsuits are not fun. They are, in fact, a headache. Whether you are bringing suit against a neighbor in small claims court or you are the officer of a large corporation being sued by its shareholders, litigation is an expensive, time-consuming, picayune process. Occasionally, the cost of the process itself is greater than the amount in dispute.

Individually, we each must decide whether it is worthwhile to spend time asserting and fighting about each and every one of our legal rights. Sometimes, if you're not careful, the fight can become more important than the original injury.

If a neighbor plays his stereo very loudly late one night, you might be able to sue under the nuisance theory of law, but is it worth your time?

Is It Worth It?

A car mechanic may forget to replace the oil cap (it happened to me), but is it worth trying to prove in a court of law to win the money you had to spend to buy a new cap?

A store may refuse to refund the purchase price of a defective appliance, and if you take your case to small claims court, you may very well win the $59.95 you spent.

Most of these potential problems could be resolved by negotiation, short of legal action, and usually that is well advised--but even that takes time and energy. Some people relish returning merchandise to stores, others dread it.

There are those who say for every injury there must be a remedy. If someone takes advantage of you, you should assert your rights. But you should also keep in mind that sometimes it is simply not worth the aggravation.

Unfortunately, the decision is not always yours to make. Others may sue you. And then the aggravation is intense because you either ignore the legal action and lose by default or you must get caught up in it, like it or not.

A friend learned recently that he was being sued in small claims court because the garage door opener in the house he just sold did not work after the buyer moved in. It worked when he, the seller, left, he says, and he wonders how he can be dragged into the legal system.

Refuses to Pay

He would rather not get involved in the legal process, but he also refuses to pay the buyer for a new garage-door opener, so the court will have to resolve the issue.

But it is worth noting that just because you've been wronged in some way, it doesn't necessarily follow that a court will find that someone else is to blame or is responsible for your loss. Contrary to what may be implied in some lawyers' televised advertisements, every injury, every insult and every loss does not have a remedy under the law.

The legal system is used to assess blame. If there is a car accident, we may turn to the courts to decide who should pay for the injuries, be it the drivers, the car manufacturers or the fellow who designed the road.

If a mud slide ruins your home, you can probably find a smart lawyer who will figure out who is to blame and who should be legally responsible.

Although some lawyers may disagree, there are some losses or injuries that are nobody's fault. And nobody should have to pay for them.

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