A condo board with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, three years of aggravation and ulcers all around.
Everyone wants to feel heard, and, particularly in conflict—when emotions are often inflamed—it’s easy for understanding to be compromised and agreement to seem impossible. Mediation can remedy that. For those in conflict and perhaps contemplating litigation, mediation’s a highly effective alternative to long, drawn-out lawsuits, saving time, money and prolonged stress. It can also help mitigate both business and reputational risk, and even relationships strained by a dispute. With its broad applicability, the benefits of mediation have been long embraced by the New York City and New York State bar associations, by law schools as well as our inundated local, state and federal courts.
Co-ops and condos certainly have their share of disputes; conflicts pertaining to leases and deeds, noise and other warranty of habitability issues, property damage, disputes with management or board members and assertions of discrimination are but a sampling. In our notoriously litigious society, the road to the courthouse is often the path of choice. But considering the tremendous legal fees and protracted time it takes even simply to arrive at trial, is it necessarily the best choice? Furthermore, in general, some ninety to ninety-five percent of court cases are settled prior to the actual trial.
Consider the various, publicized lawsuits brought against the co-op board of directors of the renowned Dakota, home to many a celebrity over the years. Writing for The New York Times February 1, 2011, journalists Peter Lattman and Christine Haugheny asserted that whether or not any of the allegations against the Dakota’s board were upheld in court, the accusations were “a potentially embarrassing crack in the facade of one of the world’s most celebrated buildings and fodder for those who feel they have been wronged by that peculiar New York institution, the almighty co-op board.” Though there might be plaintiffs and defendants alike who could have their reasons for wanting the type of publicity generated by conflict, it’s fair to say most do not. Parties to disputes such as the Dakota’s could not only have saved significant time, money and stress by having gone to mediation, both sides also could have avoided unnecessary publicity.
Voluntary and Confidential
Mediation’s a voluntary, confidential process, in which a trained, impartial third-party—the mediator—helps facilitate a conversation between parties in dispute who have been unable to negotiate a resolution on their own. The beauty of mediation is that it empowers parties to explore creative options for resolution and settle their dispute on their own terms rather than face the uncertain outcome of a court’s decision. While court decisions are generally defined in terms of win-lose, parties in mediation are afforded the opportunity to negotiate a fair and mutually acceptable agreement. Mediation settlements are written up by legal counsel and are binding. By seeking mediation, parties are demonstrating a good faith effort to resolve their dispute; in fact, sitting down at the mediation table is, in and of itself, a step in the right direction. And because of the “ownership” the parties take in the mediation process, the likelihood of their commitment is enhanced.