There are and always will be aspects of life about which people see and think differently and disagree.
Sometimes, disagreements stem from an action or omission that ended with someone physically or financially hurt. A person is unquestionably harmed if he or she is punched by a stranger or if the person’s property is taken without permission or compensation.
Other disagreements come from perceptions alone. Examples of these disagreements can evolve from poor communication or simple misunderstandings. For instance, a homeowner may plant a tree near a property line. At the same time, completely unrelatedly, a neighbor may sense that the homeowner is avoiding the neighbor. The neighbor may then conclude that the lack of communication is an indication of the homeowner’s guilt in having planted the tree across the property line, which may not be the case at all.
In our region, most of us have been taught to forgive others for hard feelings or actual or perceived sleights.
Nevertheless, if someone wants to exact revenge against another person through a lawsuit or attorney involvement based upon hurt feelings or misunderstanding, the justification is typically “principle.” People may say, “It is not about the money. It is about principle.” Unfortunately, principle is the most expensive goal of lawsuits. A person who escalates (through attorney involvement) an argument based upon principle will almost never be satisfied, even with a complete legal victory.
When it comes to real harm, like physical or financial damage, involving a lawyer or otherwise formally attempting to remedy a wrong can sometimes be appropriate. However, even lawsuits that are fully justified are not expense-free.
In our country, attorneys’ fees are generally paid by the person who hired the attorney, not any other person who is ultimately found responsible for the wrong. Our British neighbors, from whom our law was based, utilize a rule that is opposite: attorneys’ fees there are usually paid by the party who wins a lawsuit.
In the United States, attorneys’ fees are usually only recoverable if there is a law that specifically says that attorneys’ fees are recoverable, if there is fraud or if the dispute involves a contract in which the parties previously agreed that the prevailing party in a dispute will pay the other party’s attorneys’ fees.
Quite notably, unfortunately, the size of the damage is not a deciding factor in whether a winning party in a lawsuit recovers attorneys’ fees. This is typically quite surprising to people who justifiably think and say, “Yes, but this dispute involves a lot of money to me.”
Therefore, the cost of attorneys’ fees and filing fees should be considered in determining whether even a legitimate disagreement justifies attorney involvement and/or a lawsuit.
Attorneys’ fees are not inexpensive, and people who seldom work with lawyers can perceive those fees to be very high. However, as someone once told me, when hiring an attorney for an hour, you are not paying for the hour. Instead, you are paying for years of education and experience along with accountability for foreseeable outcomes.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.