Early in my law career, I had the opportunity to see the power of mediation from the litigator’s seat. I had already experienced it as a student and in competitions during law school, but when my former employer failed to appear for mediation of the lawsuit I filed against it, I lost the opportunity to see mediation in an active matter for another four years. It wasn’t as common 20 years ago, especially not in New York. However, the Small Claims Court was testing it.
My client had been sued for allegedly hitting a parked car when pulling from a curbside parking space. The night court had a mediation program that parties could try while waiting for an opportunity to be heard before the Judge. After much discussion, it was clear that the plaintiff was not as concerned with winning a judgment against my client when he realized it wasn’t clear she was the party who hit his car. He didn’t want to be unjustly enriched. He just wanted to be heard. His car was one of the few nice things he had been able to buy. He had worked hard to pay for it. When it was damaged in a hit-and-run accident, he felt emotional dings similar to the physical dings on his car.
We settled the case for $1 in exchange for the following apology: “I’m sorry that this happened to you.” His insurance company presumably paid him to repair the damage to his car. My client, the mediator, and I paid for the damage to his soul. This was a more complete resolution than a judgment could have gotten anyone.
Additionally, if we had been limited to a Judge’s determination, there would have been injustice to at least one of them. My client might have paid a settlement for an incident she was not involved in. Also, the plaintiff’s statements beyond the facts might have been stifled and ignored. Instead, both parties got what they came for. This was a true win-win. They shook hands, both feeling heard and respected. This was not the way most of my cases resolved back then.