It’s Not Money

Plaintiffs do not sue for money. However, the end result of all claims, litigation or disputes is money because the system can only work in that medium. Dealing with a plaintiff with the idea that money is their goal, you will end up in court, or at least writing a check. What research that has been done, has shown that at least seventy percent of the time the customer suing you does not want money. This may vary for some types of Plaintiffs, but for your average “Joe,” (not an MD, JD, Corporation, Business, super high income or experienced plaintiff,) its not money that an angry customer wants.

Money is how we respond to these people. A classic case of you offering apples and the customer talking oranges. Specifically solving a problem with a hammer when a kind word and a few minutes of listening might do.

Ten Reasons Why People Sue

  • Why: This questions is never answered

  • How: No one will Answer this question

  • Where: Why won’t they tell me where the accident happened

  • Answers: No one will answer my questions

  • Justice: I want justice its been promised to me since first grade

  • Community: I don’t want anyone else damaged by this company

  • Retribution: I want to put them out of business

  • Communication: I want them to talk to me

  • Acknowledgement: I want them to admit they were wrong

  • Revenge: closely aligned with the issue of justice

  • Closure: An element of many of the above, but a reality in the US today.

I was a small law practice for fifteen years and was open to any person who walked through the door. Never, in fifteen years did an individual walk through the door and ask me to sue someone for money. What the injured customer wanted fell into several categories, mostly (1) answers to their questions (2) revenge or (3) justice.

Little old ladies who had been taken by a contractor only wanted to make sure no one else was hurt by the contractor. A friend of mine who had been blown up in an explosion and totally disabled, wanted to wait until the last day to see if his old boss might call.

Attorneys and insurance companies have pounded into our heads that if we are involved in potential claim we are to shut up. If you read the back of our automobile insurance cards, it reiterates what we have been trained in the “litigation minded society” to remember. “Say nothing. Only talk to our insurance representatives or law enforcement authorities.” We live in America by this mantra.

Look at this article from the Columbus Dispatch about why a family was suing a camp.

Columbus Dispatch August 16, 2000.

Family sues summer camp over drowning Wednesday, August 16, 2000 Kate Schott, Dispatch Staff Reporter

Shawan Evans’ uncle said he hopes the lawsuit he filed against the South Side Settlement House will help answer how his 6-year-old nephew drowned in a pool at a summer camp.

The uncle said nothing about money. The lawsuit was not started obviously because of money but because of emotional issues.

The article goes on to state: “The Evanses and their attorney met last week with lawyers representing Triple S and posed 54 questions about the drowning, Mr. Evans said.
It was a waste of our time,” he said. ” We just kept hearing ‘[we] don’t know.
We just want to know what happened that day. We can’t seem to get any answers.

Fifty-four questions about what happened. How did my child die? Answering the questions might have diffused the lawsuit. However, the article goes on to say the defendants had a lawyer who was protecting them.

Protecting them…………….. Right into a lawsuit.

Answers

The lawyer for the family had this to say:

“The Evanses’ attorney, Lloyd Pierre-Louis, said the family is open to settling but still wants to know what happened. ” By instituting the action, we’re in a better position to obtain the answers we need,” he said.

The lawyer is all ready starting to cross the emotional and question issues with monetary answers. If we do not get answers, we will get money or money will force them to answer our questions.

“Evans said the money was not the point of the suit. ” There is no way to put a price on his life,” he said. Rather, the family wants closure, to know how Shawan could have gone unnoticed by the adults at the pool. ”

Here is a multi-million dollar lawsuit that might be defused with honest answers to the family’s questions. Of course, there is a fine line to walk between honestly answering questions and setting yourself up for a lawsuit. In addition, that needs to be done before the injured party retains an attorney. If you have stalled the participant into hiring an attorney, your better make your defense wall a lot bigger and taller.

The family was asking questions about how their child died. None of those questions seemed to be targeted at gaining information to use in a lawsuit. However, the Camp’s answers, unintentionally, were structured to make sure the lawsuit happens. Not getting any answer to their questions forced them to the next highest step, court. To get money, No. To get the answers to their questions: How did my child die?

Put yourself in place of the parent. You receive a phone call telling you to go to the hospital your child has been injured. You arrive and are informed your child is dead. How? This question is searing through your mind. How did my child die? Can you think of any emotion or need that would overcome that desire to learn how your child died? Yet as attorneys, we feel we have the right to keep that information from someone to protect our clients.

Knowledge

Closure is a relatively new word to the American language. However, it is a word that is very important for most Americans. Injured people need to know what happened. Survivors want to know how they survived and others died. One hundred years ago, people were hurt and they died and that was life. In the past hundred years we have learned the answers to millions of questions we could not previously answer. That leads Americans to believe that question should have an answer. Everything should have closure. That is not always the case and it takes time to explain that to people. You cannot expect them to have the understanding of your industry and consequently the acceptance of the answer that you provide. You have experience and industry education to help you understand the forces and factors that create the incidents that cause injuries and death. You also understand the unknowns that affect the business. All of these give you insight and perspective that provides you with answers.

How then, based on your experience and knowledge can you expect a novice to your business how an injury or accident occurred. That takes time. Unless you are willing to put in the time, they will not be willing to understand.

Justice

In kindergarten we started to learn about our rights. Our rights have been explained to us each year until graduation as the basic foundation of the United States and one of the pillars of our success. Since that time, we have rights to everything. The right to know. The right to justice. No one lives with injustice any more. If you customer feels that they have been unjustly treated, that education that they received for twelve years rears it ugly head, however perverted that knowledge has become, we want the justice we are do.

That desire for justice, combined with lack of knowledge on the guest part and lack of understanding on the business part leads to litigation. The desire to receive justice, the desire to extract retribution, the desire to protect others from injustice are issues, almost values that are important to our society. Unless you as the business owner understand these issues, you again will be looking at a checkbook at the way to solve your problem.

Emotional Justice is worse for everyone to handle. For years, we have approached lawsuits as being a money issue based on greed. Yet, the people who walk into an attorney’s office are normally the product of poor customer service. Many times there may or may not be a legally recognizable claim. That is the job of the attorney. The attorney will take that anger and turn it into a desire for money over time. The emotions that linger or the desire to hurt the business always heightens that desire.

And justice is not just an American issue based on law. John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice states that for humans, justice is a fundamental part of our makeup. If the value or even intrinsic issue of justice exists, we cannot ignore it when a guest has been injured.

Duty to our Client

Do attorneys do this consciously, No. Or at least I hope not. We honestly feel we are protecting your client. Based on our training and the horror stories of law school we are afraid that our clients will make a fatal mistake that not only starts the suit, but also guarantees a win for the plaintiff. However, that is not the case. If suits were monetary, then the attorney’s fears would be real. Because they are emotional or based on the US theory of rights or justice, these suits are started for reasons that simple curtseys, answers, and honesty can eliminate.

7 Mistakes Made by People who are called Defendant

  1. Hire and retain Uncaring Employees: Hire Well, Train Well, and Treat Well

  2. Failing Know Your Customers and why they are buying from you.

  3. Failing to Treat Your Customers the Way They Want to Be Treated:

  4. Examining the problem from Your Perspective: Your customer sees the problem differently than you. The customer may not even understand the problem.

  5. Placing a ridiculous value on principles and pride. Principles & Pride Goeth Before a Lawsuit

  6. Never know Why you are being sued: Sticking your head in the sand, or passing the problem to a lawyer does not resolve the problem.

  7. Forgetting What Your Mother Taught You: If you act like your mother taught you, you won’t be sued.

As the emotion drains with time, the attorney refuels the desire for the suit with another emotion – greed. Even if greed itself will not work, the attorney can show the financial impact the greed has on the business. If nothing else, a large monetary judgment can be turned into justice by equating the cost to the business as punishment or revenge

What happened to turn a customer from a client to a litigant?

At a ski resort there is one brief moment in time when a happy guest is converted to an injured guest. After realizing that they are injured, the majority does not start thinking money. They start wanting help. However, in the mind of the ski resort something did change. That person evolved from a happy guest to a potential litigant. The ski resort goes from bending over backward to get that guest into the resort and having fun to fearful of the person. The resort will rush food and linens to your room and transport you from one place to another with a smile prior to your injury, yet the guest is now left standing outside the clinic with no way to get back to their room or car afterwards.

What did the guest do to change? What thought occurs, that works it way through the pain that says to the guest, you are now different. Or did that evolution only occur in the minds of the people running the resort.

Angry customers do not sue. Angry ex-clients do.

You can stop anger, revenge, or unhappy customers before they turn to a lawyer.

Solutions

  1. Do not give them a reason to go find someone to beat you up.

Work with your clients to help them back to an even emotional level. This may not always be possible if they have lost a loved one; they have suffered life-changing injuries or their financial future. You can show them you should not be the target of their anger. You can help them direct their anger to other persons or at least deal with you on a reasonable basis. You will not always be able to do this in one meeting, it may take days or months, but persistence pays off.

When in doubt compare the cost of the angry customer, attorneys to defend, and your time to the benefit of turning an angry customer into a happy customer again.

  1. Answer questions.

Worse case scenario, you go to court and admit you answered the client’s questions. Do not believe the attorney’s mantra that clients are dumb and going to give away the company by admitting liability. It will be difficult for to answer some questions with no liability because of the ingrained fear we have of talking to injured clients. Trust yourself.

Prepare your answers as you drive over to help. However, prepare answers, not evasion.

Evasion is so evident it does not work. It makes you look like you have something to hide. By evading answers you are sending the guest to someone who will find out the answer. Since kindergarten we have been taught our “rights.” Those rights in most people have evolved into everything possible. People believe they have the right to know. They have that right with governments they therefore feel it must extend to everything else.

At the same time, why not. If a member of your family were injured, you would want to know what happened.

  1. Treat the people as you want or they believe they want to be treated.

How can we solve these issues? We can answer questions and treat people, as we want to be treated. It will scare the living daylights out of every one of us and send our attorneys screaming to their malpractice carriers, but we may avoid a costly battle over the word “why.”

During spring of 2000, a small ski resort had a number of snowstorms. During these storms, lift operators are faced with two decisions when small children load the lift. Clean the chair lift seat or assist young children into their chair. The obvious answer is to assist young people into the lift. The sport is skiing and it is done on snow.

On this particular day, the resort received approximately four inches of snow in a couple of hours. A mother and her 9-year-old son loaded a two-person chair. The lift operator assisted the boy into the chair and consequently did not clean the chair. The mother and son started brushing the snow off the chair seat. Shifting to do so, the son was moving around the chair. The mother told the son either to be careful or not to clean the snow but he continued to do so. The young boy slipped off the chair and fell approximately 15 feet.

The mother rode the chair to the top where a Ski Patroller met her, who took her down to the scene. Upon arrival, she snapped photographs of the scene and the chair. A ski patroller assisted the mother; other patrollers took son down to the clinic and in the process learned, she was an attorney.

I was notified of the lift accident and the fact the mother was an attorney. I met the ambulance at the Clinic and assisted the parties in getting into the clinic. Mother was quite terse and demanding. Normal emotions for a mother concerned about her son. However, if you couple that attitude with her avocation, it brings fear to a risk manager’s heart. No injuries could be found on the boy; however, he was not communicating and complained of pain so he was air lifted to Denver.

Mother was given a map, given telephone numbers to contact me and escorted to her car. She was contacted at the hospital that night to make sure she arrived. She and her son walked out of the hospital that night around midnight and the mother and son checked out the next day.

The son was sent a resort Teddy Bear and a personal card. The mother was also sent a card. Mother responded with a card and thanked the staff for their help.

The mother called fall of 2001 and stated she wanted to come back skiing but her son was afraid of the lifts. In order to assist in this, the resort volunteered to find the perfect instructor to assist the boy for two all days’ private lessons so that mother and son could enjoy skiing.

I met the family the night they arrived and talked to them for two hours about the resort and skiing. Mother is a tax attorney and concerned that son would no longer want to ski, but the son was a quite excited.

After two days of private lessons, the mother and son were skiing intermediate and some expert runs. They hired the ski instructor for a third day of private lessons. They family left after 5 days and are now excited about skiing. Since that first incident they have come back to the resort two more times. Each time they have hired the same private instructor for a day or more. This last time they visited the resort, the mother and son took me out to dinner.

Whether this was ever, a lawsuit is unknown. However, a disgruntled scared guest has been turned into a happy guest. By treating the guest as a guest and not a litigant, a customer with a possible propensity to recover damages was turned into a lifelong customer. In addition, by coming back to the resort, skiing, and riding lift, from which the boy fell; we substantially reduced the chance of a lawsuit. (People who come back to ski have a hard time suing. On the stand, they cannot answer the question, “If the resort is so dangerous, why did you go back and ski there?”)

Mom and Son are happy and will always come back to the resort.

Costs: two private all day lessons, one teddy bear, telephone calls, postage, etc. Less than $700.00.

Return: eleven nights lodging in a one or two-bedroom unit, Twenty-three days of lift tickets, and two all day private lesson, meals.

Possible damages: days in depositions, staff hours responding to discovery, may a win, maybe a loss. Either way, a customer we had spent money on to come to the resort was lost

Results: Happy guests and no lawsuit. I have three cards from the family on my shelf and a free meal.

In this case, I ignored our liability issues. I just concentrated on dealing with the guest, answering questions honestly or honestly saying, “I don’t know,” and getting back to the guest with answers when I learned them. Getting back to the customer and answering their questions establishes credibility.

Every time you say, “I don’t know,” write the question down and research to find the answer. If you can’t find an answer, explain why. Maybe there is no answer, but if you use that statement, there better not be an answer. Coming back and restating the question and answering the question will provide you with an immense amount of respect and trust. As Franklin Covey stated in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the Emotional Bank Account. He states you can only trust someone if they have developed an emotional bank account with the other person. “You make deposits in the emotional bank account through genuine courtesy, respect, and appreciate for that person and for the other point of view.”

When you make the commitment to establish an emotional bank account with another person:

You listen more, you listen in greater depth. You express yourself with greater courage. You aren’t reactive. You go deeper inside yourself for strength of character to be proactive. You keep hammering it out until the other person begins to realize that you genuinely want the resolution to be a real win for both of you. That very process is a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank Account.
And the stronger you are—the more genuine your character, the higher your level of proactivity, the more committed you really are to Win/Win—the more powerful your influence will be with that other person.

Dr. Covey stresses the idea that a Win/Win situation is achievable when this type of relationship is established. A Win/Win resolution to any issue can work for a monetary or emotional crisis. However his words fit perfectly with the idea that lawsuits start as emotion. Develop a relationship, work to a Win/Win relationship on the emotional basis and you may not need to identify the financial issues

Because Win/Win is a principle people can validate in their own lives, you will be able to bring most people to a realization that they will win more of what they want by going for what you both want.

You are probably starting with a negative balance in the guests Emotional Bank Account. You are the person representing the loss of money, income, the injury or even loss of life. Whether or not you had any or all of the responsibility for the crisis, you are the person who must open and Emotional Bank Account and start making deposits.

Work hard at making deposits in to the Emotional Bank Account. You cannot even open an account unless you are sincere, unless you care, unless you have real empathy and a desire to help. “With those guides you can listen and when the opportunity presents itself, start making deposits.

“By listening, you will here the opportunity to establish deposits.” Establish report. Listen for the opportunity to learn about the guest. Learn about what type of deposits they want. To learn how they deal with the different issues they present, by listening to them.

Habit 4 of Dr. Stephen Covey is Win/Win involves mutual learning, mutual influence, and mutual benefits. Relationships built on a Win/Win begin with character and move toward relationships out of which flow agreements.

Without trust, the best we can do is compromise, without trust, we lack the credibility for open, mutual learning and the communication and real creativity.

Compromise is a settlement and for most people settlement has a negative feeling, a negative connotation. Settlement is not the end of a problem, it is the result of what I was really owed, but I settled for something else. I was owed more, but I settled for less. You do not settle for anything in your life, why settle in this emotional issue. Settlement also means money. No emotion, only money. Once money is on the table, then money is the only currency that can be used to settle the issues. For money brings its own emotion, greed. And few, if any other emotions except love can overcome greed.

Who: You. It must be you or someone on your staff who can speak with authority for you and the business. Sending your attorney or risk manager will only raise suspicion that you have something to hide. You are real, you are credible, and you have the connection to the disaster that raises the concerns.

The guest has always dealt with customer service when there was a problem. Again what changed that moved the business response from customer service to risk management. The guest has a problem, deal with it, whether the room is too hot, they are short of towels, they are hungry or they are hurt.

What if the situation still goes bad? You have created several defenses to a lawsuit by being human, by showing kindness and being honest. The mother and son came back to the resort Mountain. The Mother and son rode the chairlift from which the boy had fallen. The defense: If it was so dangerous, why did you come back to the resort and ride the dangerous device. Why did you ride the same chair lift?

To rent equipment and sign up for the ski lesson, mother signed a rental agreement releasing her and son for future and past liability.

The thank-you cards I have from the mother make no allegations of negligence or wrongdoing on the part of the resort. A Plaintiff does not send the defendant thank you cards.

Even catastrophic accidents such as a customer death or accident can be handled to change a customer’s attitude about your company.

Even catastrophic accidents can be handled in a dignified manner providing comfort, support, and answers to your customers.

Your customer is at your business and their spouse dies. Have food delivered. Lots of food. Remember the casserole parade, (as I call it) of the sixties. Someone was hurt and within hours, casseroles were rolling down the sidewalk, some in the hands of mothers, others by kids. Families with problems did not have to cook.

Dealing with the problems, big and small can eliminate anger and many other emotions.

Helping a mourning family receive closure works. Unanswered question nag for years, maybe past the statute – maybe not.

This idea is not something that is person specific, anyone can use this technique. A friend of mine running a community outdoor recreation program had a minor injured on a mountain bike trip to Gunnison County. The program director called the father and told him about the incident and agreed to meet the father at the hospital about the time the ambulance was expected to arrive back to the Front Range.

At midnight, the agreed meeting time, my friend was walking into the hospital dreading what he was going to do. He knew beyond those doors was possibly an angry parent. He walked through the doors and met the father and they talked. The ambulance was two hours late, so both men had plenty of time to get to know one another. By the time the ambulance arrived they had become friends.

No litigation came from the child’s injuries. The program director and the father became such good friends they would meet for lunch.

In another situation, a rafting company in the Grand Canyon had an attorney receive a facial injury on a trip. She was helicoptered out of the grand to the hospital in Flagstaff. The river company managers met her in the hospital and spent time with her while she was there. When she checked out, she, along with an employee hiked down to the canyon and met up the trip and continued on. She later came back and took the entire trip again.

In both of these cases, they fear of dealing with an angry customer and the fear of litigation were put behind the business and the reality of dealing with an injured party was placed in the first priorty. In each case, the results were not successful in preventing litigation, but they had far reaching effects after the injuries had healed.

Money or Emotion

A mild mannered woman comes to the front desk of your business and asks for you by name. As you approach, she smiles and confirms your name. She then hands you several pieces of paper and says, “You’re served.”

Your rush to your attorney’s office with conflicting emotions fighting to surface. Rage that someone could sue you. Anger that you have to waste time over such a stupid issue. Concerned about the financial impact this is going to have on your business. Scared.

Your attorney reads the summons and complaint asks you a few questions and says, “Don’t worry, it is not personal. They only want money.”

Your attorney is wrong. It is personal. It is very personal for the plaintiff. For the consumer or customer listed as the plaintiff, the last issue your customer is thinking about is money. The customer is angry, is walking around with feelings of resentment. Your customer wants justice. He or she wants you and your business to hurt just as they hurt. They want to make sure that what you did to them never happens again.

It should be personnel for you. It is a sign of bad service, unjust treatment, or believing in lawyers and insurance companies too much. The easiest way to start a lawsuit is to protect your self from losing a lawsuit. That seems to be an impossible balancing act; however, it is quite possible and very easy. Worst-case scenario, you appear to be an honest, good-hearted person/corporation on the witness stand.

How you approach this problem, personal, or monetary is irrelevant now, but was critical at the time the problem first started.

References

Stephen R. Covey, 1989. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster
Patricia Ewick and Susan S. Silbey, 1998. The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Lawrence M. Friedman, 1977. Law and Society an Introduction. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall
John Rawls, 1999. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
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