It’s an unfortunate reality that the world is becoming an increasingly litigious place in which to live. It’s been argued that the alarming increase in legal actions, sometimes for remarkably frivolous reasons, has impacted every aspect of our society – from increasing the cost of health care to choking our innovation and resourcefulness. We hear of people successfully suing fast-food restaurants because of burns received from a spilled cup of coffee; a burglar’s family successfully suing because the burglar died in a house he was robbing; an individual suing (albeit unsuccessfully) a beer company because drinking the beer didn’t make him more popular with women as he believed the commercials implied.
How has this happened? Some blame overzealous people in the legal profession. Others blame a growing culture of selfishness and a pervasive entitlement attitude. Whichever the cause, the fact remains that there are more and more customers out there prepared to sue us when things go wrong. What can we do to protect ourselves?
First of all, we have to accept that there is no guaranteed way to completely protect ourselves from Litigious Larry. But there are some things we can do to minimize the risk when things go wrong. Let’s start by taking a look at three reasons that someone might sue you.
1. You were truly negligent or intentionally did a Bad Thing (and probably deserve to be sued)
2. Someone is just looking for any reason to sue anybody
3. Something went wrong which might have been prevented
In the first two instances, there’s not much you can do other than to deal with the situation as it unfolds, and correct whatever triggered the customer’s action in the first place. In the third situation, where something unforeseen just went wrong, there are several strategies which can reduce the risk of a lawsuit. Some of the most interesting information on this has come from the health profession. Here are three things to keep in mind:
Control your Tone of Voice
A 2002 Harvard study linked tone of voice to the likelihood of surgeons facing a malpractice suit. Surgeons with an anxious or concerned tone of voice were half as likely to be sued. On the other hand, surgeons perceived as having a ‘dominant’ tone were 2.4 times as likely to be sued.
The lesson: Don’t try to bully your way out of trouble
Deal With Complaints Early
A 2002 survey of 18,851 hospital patient complaints revealed that dealing with complaints early can reduce the risk of a visit to court.
The lesson: Ignoring things will not make them go away
Admit it and Fix it
As odd as this might sound, admitting to, and working to correct mistakes right away can reduce the risk of legal action. The US Department of Veteran Affairs has found that a policy to this effect has resulted in a dramatic reduction in patient payouts and legal costs.
The lesson: Honesty is the best policy
Let’s hope that you never find yourself in a situation where you have to use these guidelines. But if you do – good luck! And remember:
“The opinions and information contained in this newsletter are solely for the entertainment purposes of the reader, and do not constitute recommendations for action. The reader understands that the advice may not apply in all situations. Any advise contained herein may only be followed by the reader on the understanding that the reader will at no time take related legal action against the author. Besides, the author is a really nice guy, and why would you want to sue him anyway? He has three kids to put through school, a mortgage, staff and taxes to pay, a few problems with his right knee, a car that needs a tune-up…”