Ed has travelled widely and is, among other things, a Relate counsellor. (He writes from a personal point of view, not as a representative of Relate.)
Because disputes with other people are so suffused with emotion that it’s impossible to think straight, I’m going to create some literal distance with a true story from far away – four thousand miles away. The circumstances illustrate the costs of failing to seek mediation.
On a tropical afternoon a woman rests on her bed. Suddenly a huge impact sends the bed flying across the room and everything is covered with dust and powdered cement. The woman, injured, manages to crawl out and finds her house destroyed. She’s lucky to be alive. Inside the ruin is a ten-ton truck loaded – overloaded – with stone from the nearby quarry. The young driver had lost control on the hill and jumped from the cab while the truck rolled off the road and pulverised the house it hit.
There was no insurance on the truck, and the insurance on the house had lapsed. Both the truck’s driver and the owner are fined by the traffic court. Can there be any question on the woman’s need for compensation for the loss of her house? The owner of the truck, who is also the owner of the quarry, prevaricates while the woman’s lawyer seeks a settlement. An offer is rejected as inadequate and it is subsequently withdrawn anyway. Mediation is then proposed and a mediator engaged.
But the mediation session is never held – the quarry-owner does not turn up – and the case, finally, after many months, goes to court. The quarry-owner now faces an adverse judgement with a punitive element to the sum and costs awarded to the woman.
Mediation at day one was surely the answer.
The case is not British and the feelings are not yours; but this gives clarity to the reasonableness of mediation as the way to settle all types of disputes.