As the saying goes, accidents happen. However, accidents can be costly for a business with the potential to cause all sorts of disruption to a business’ activities and may even affect its reputation depending on the severity of the incident and the impact on customers.
Mistakes caused by a supplier, for example, can have a knock-on effect on your company, causing financial, and even, reputational loss.
Issuing legal proceedings may, at first, appear to be the only route forward in this situation. In some cases, suing the party you consider to be at fault may be appropriate particularly if the issues in dispute are complex or you and the other party are poles apart. However, is there a way of protecting the relationship and minimising the loss suffered by both of you? For these reasons, it is essential to consider whether you can settle a claim at an early stage or throughout legal proceedings.
The courts in England and Wales encourage the use of settlement including mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. In fact, a party may be faced with cost penalties from the Court for refusing to agree to engage in dispute resolution.
The Benefits of Settling
For all horse lovers out there, an equestrian centre located in Miami, known as Masterpiece Equestrian Center (Masterpiece) and its customers, recently had more reason than most to continue legal proceedings “as a matter of principle” when all of its 22 horses were poisoned by tainted feed supplied by Lakeland Animal Nutrition (Lakeland). The horses affected ranged from ponies worth $25,000 to elite competitors worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Although Lakeland confirmed that the contamination was limited only to the feed at Masterpiece, the company recalled the product, stopped producing equine feeds and formally acknowledged that the feed delivered to Masterpiece contained monensin and lasalocid, which are anti-bacterial additives that are safe for livestock such as cattle, but are toxic to horses’ muscles.
There is little doubt that Lakeland’s actions substantially assisted the parties in this case to reach a settlement and would have increased the likelihood of the commercial relationship between Lakeland and Masterpiece being maintained. Masterpiece has even been recorded as saying that Lakeland had “acted honourably throughout the restoration process”.
Making efforts to settle a case has a number of benefits for the parties involved including:
- Providing certainty and closure;
- Avoiding the expense of continuing with the litigation;
- Avoiding the need for you to continue to use precious management and other personnel time in preparing for the litigation;
- Avoiding unwanted publicity; and/or
- Maintaining a commercial relationship with the other side.
For equine disputes in particular, mediation can be an effective settlement method. It can be particularly effective if you choose the right mediator with suitable experience with your dispute and the equine industry in general as they are more likely to understand the issues behind the dispute.
Suzanne Gregson, joint head of DWF’s Equine team, considers that “equine disputes often involve rather complex legal issues and specific terminology relating, for example, to a horse’s anatomy and common equine health problems. It is, therefore, essential that you have a good legal team behind you who has a comprehensive understanding of the equine industry both personally and professionally. This also relates to mediation. A mediator who has experience in the equine industry will be able to better appreciate the complex issues, and even the emotions, often involved in an equine dispute in order to achieve the best result possible for both parties.”
DWF’s Equine team has relationships with a number of mediators who specialise in equine disputes to assist in achieving settlement where possible.In situations where settlement is not possible, our equine litigators are fully capable of guiding you through the litigation process keeping your commercial needs in mind at all times.
If you require specialist advice concerning settlement or our equine services in general, please contact Suzanne Gregson.This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.