Per my column from last week, your troubles conceivably should provide you with something.
Quite likely, youre entitled to some form of compensation for that injustice, be it in the form of a small amount of money, a replacement for the object you purchased that isnt satisfactory, or just an apology. (Believe it or not, in this litigious society weve evolved into, there are some people that just want to hear sorry. But, as a direct result of this litigious society weve evolved into, youre likely never to get an apology because of the raft of liability concerns.)
However, you really shouldnt have to get involved with attorneys or the court system for a smallish claim. In fact, you can get pretty much the same result if you send the guilty party a letter.
Yes, something as simple as a letter may allow you to receive the money, the property, or just the piece of mind you crave from the conflict youre involved in. If history has shown us anything, its the power of a few words on a piece of paper.
The Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence were, at their core, letters to tyrants that needed to be overthrown, or, at the very least, their influenced curtailed to a certain extent so that others could pursue their own lives and interests. Thus, words on paper that become a letter can be, and is, a very powerful thing. It provides the addressee (the person who the letter is addressed to) the fortune of immediately telling them who wrote the letter, what matter the letter discusses, how youve been wronged, what that wrong should cost the addressee, and finally, steps that will be taken if the letter is ignored.
Believe it or not, most companies and individuals use the same types of calculus you do in deciding whether to file or defend a lawsuit. They look at the amount in controversy (the money, property or piece of mind) and figure out how much it will cost them in time, personnel and legal fees to prevent you from receiving these things. Quite often, its more financially sound for them to settle, rather than fight everything all the way. As Im sure you can already see that works in your favor.
And if they see all of the factors mentioned in the preceding two paragraphs, their decision is made even more striking. They can see the wrong, the damage and the result of ignoring the problem once again. Why should they put themselves through all that, when they can just make the problem go away with a stroke of a pen?
These tools are very valuable, and the demand letter is the first arrow in every attorneys quiver. Again, why launch a lawsuit for a minor case when a favorable result might be garnered in a brief, cost-effective manner?
Of course, that just brings us to our next topic attorneys. Should you retain one to assist you? Thats really up to you to decide.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say the word Esquire is a mighty powerful incentive for the wrongdoer to make amends and hurl itself back on the straight and narrow. I personally have felt the chill running down my spine by seeing a personal letter to me addressed by an attorney (of course that was before I became an attorney). But realistically, you can do a lot of the legwork and drafting yourself, either signing the letter or having a friend or family member that is a member of the local or state bar sign it for you.
As an extra bonus, sending the letter certified mail, return receipt requested, gives the recipient a similar uneasy feeling its an indication that the envelope they are about to hold in their hands is a very important document, and one that really shouldnt be ignored.
You also may want to talk to an attorney because they can give you a better idea of just how the eventual reader ran afoul. This can be a very valuable tool for the body of your letter, as you can tell the wrongdoer exactly what they did, the elements of the aforesaid crime, and what your complaint to a court may contain (if it comes to that).
So, do yourself a favor the next time you get into a scrap or feel as though youve been wronged. Put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and draft a letter. It may get you what you want without the legal bill attached.
Christopher L. Markham is a general practice attorney based in Frederick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.