Settlements: (1) general reflections

My lawsuit — the one that inspired this blog — settled.

Perhaps granting the lawsuit its own dynamic, i.e., phrasing the settlement as if the lawsuit took care of it itself, sounds odd. But it isn’t. It’s accurate.

I didn’t settle it, my lawyer didn’t, the defendants and their lawyers didn’t. It was a collaborative effort which of course is what settlements must be. Without collaboration leading to settlement, there is trial, and trial, whether by judge or jury, is terra incognita — a medieval map on which there is a wavery line and a legend written large: “Beyond this line there be dragons.”

I’ve written on Sidebar about the usual reaction to settlements: no party is entirely satisfied. And the settlement of my broken foot lawsuit certainly fell into the related self-analytic rueful category of What Possessed Me To Settle For So Little Money?

But this settlement, the co-op lawsuit settlement, broke the rule, at least for me. I am entirely satisfied. In fact, I stand on the border of unadulterated happiness. I don’t know if the defendants feel similarly and you know what? I don’t care.

So, considering my two settlements and the difference reactions I had to each, I can offer some advisory reflections about settling lawsuits.

Steps to achieving a settlement you’ll be satisfied with

Let’s go way back into the beginnings of your lawsuit, to the Oh No! stage, when you realize you’ll have to sue. Here on Sidebar I’ve given you a number of steps you should be taking before you retain a lawyer. I’m adding one more: what do you want as the outcome of this lawsuit?

You’re suing because you’ve been harmed in some way. Your lawsuit is — must be — righteous. Let’s take that as a given.

As pained and wronged as you feel, there is probably only one outcome for your lawsuit, whether it goes to trial or judgment or settlement: money.

Money does not usually offer a panoramic satisfaction for a plaintiff. So much of what we want out of a lawsuit is inchoate, and will remain inchoate right up until the end. Whatever vague items are on your ending-the-lawsuit agenda — defendants’ apology, contrition, crawling down the street in a hairshirt whilst being whipped by a contingent of your friends and relations, et cetera — they will all evaporate when confronted by one consolidated cold number.

What is that number? And how do you calculate it?

Not emotionally. That seems fairly impossible, right? Hurt, a sense of wrong, a desire for some kind of vengeance are emotional. And I can tell you that the anger that settles in over the course of a lawsuit does not fade into mild irritation. So rather than allowing the emotions to sweep you into an escalating value for your lawsuit — “I’ve been suffering for years! So for every year this thing goes on I want another half-million buckeroos!” — let’s see if I can settle us down to a rational way of calculating a decent settlement.

NEXT: Working out a (flexible) rational number to settle your lawsuit.

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