Many people imagine that lawyers cannot wait to sue. In fact, I spend a fair amount of my time counseling potential clients on how they might avoid court and the need to hire an attorney. Here’s a tale of how a man received an unpleasant surprise in his lunch and how a restaurateur made an unfortunate situation even worse. Now the two are heading to court and that’s too bad. Here are the facts of the case:
A man enters a Manhattan eatery and orders a turkey burger. He bites into his sandwich and hit something hard, so hard that he feels immediate pain in his mouth. He spits out the food to see some bone and cartilage that was in the burger and half the tooth that he’s broken. Disgusted and in pain, he complains and the restaurant owner comes to see about the matter. The man explains what has happened and the restaurateur apologizes. The customer explains that he’ll need to see a dentist and get his tooth fixed. The restaurateur says he will look into paying the man’s dental costs.
So far, we have an unfortunate situation, but one that looks like it will have a positive outcome.
The man goes off and has his tooth repaired. He pays a little more than $500 for the crown and dental work. He calls up the restaurateur and explains that he would like the $500 reimbursed. In fact, the man thought it would be fine if they split the cost.
This matter should have been resolved in that phone call, but here’s where it took a turn for the worse. The restaurateur refused to pay, putting the blame on his supplier.
So what happens? The man now calls a lawyer – that’s me – looking to sue. He doesn’t need a lawyer. He can save himself money by handling this himself. I recommended a two-step process that starts with making one more effort to resolve this matter before going to court (see more detail at the bottom of this article):
- Step One: Send a Certified Letter to the Restaurateur asking for Reimbursement of the Dental Expenses.
- Step Two: File a Claim in Small Claims Court.
I hope the restaurateur responds to the letter and pays the bill. If he resists, not only will he make matters worse, but he will cost himself even more money. Here’s why: he most likely has his restaurant registered as a corporation and corporations cannot represent themselves in Small Claims Court. Therefore, the restaurateur will need to hire an attorney to represent him in Small Claims Court. And, given what happened and the customer’s evidence (he has photos of both the tooth and the bone and cartilage in the burger, as well as receipts for his dental work), the restaurateur will lose and pay both the lawyer and the customer’s dental costs. By not resolving the matter early, the restaurateur only costs himself money and headaches. In addition, he winds up with one angry customer whose future business the restaurateur will lose, and even worse, that customer will now tell others to avoid the restaurant.
There’s got to be a better way and there is. The restaurateur started down the right path. He determined the man was telling the truth – no attempt at fraud here – and he apologized to his customer. The restaurateur offered to pay the man’s dental bills and should have followed through. Had he done so, he would have kept his costs down and he would have turned a negative situation into a positive one. The customer would have been happy and been spreading the good word about how well the restaurateur acted in this situation.
We need lawyers and court cases to settle disputes that people cannot settle on their own. We would be so much better off if we sought amicable solutions. More courteous interactions and more exchanges where people work out their differences will mean fewer court cases and fewer attorneys.
I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have suffered injury or damages because of another person’s recklessness or negligence and you cannot settle the disagreement amicably, then you may want to contact a personal injury attorney. I will be glad to answer your questions and assist you. There is never a charge for this consultation. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.
Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney
Here is more detailed information on what I recommended to put in the certified letter to the restaurateur and how to proceed to court:
- Step One: Send a Certified Letter to the Restaurateur asking for Reimbursement of the Dental Expenses. Write a factual, non-confrontational letter. Start by explaining the circumstances of how you broke your tooth. If you have a picture and a receipt, include copies of those with your letter. Then explain that you would like reimbursement for your dental expense. Outline the dental services you received and the cost of each. Enclose copies of your receipts. Close the letter by asking the restaurateur to contact you to arrange reimbursement. If he fails to do so, explain that you will file a claim for damages in Small Claims Court. Give the restaurateur a reasonable deadline by which you expect him to respond and make payment. Allow at least two weeks, though 20 days might be better.
- Step Two: File a Claim in Small Claims Court. If the restaurateur refuses to resolve the matter amicably, then you need to go to court. In New York City, you can file a claim for damages up to $5,000 in Small Claims Court. You can find more information about NYC Small Claims Court here. You do not need an attorney as the State designed Small Claims Court as a place where citizens could represent themselves. (In the rest of New York State, you need to file an action in District Court. District Court has jurisdiction for any amount up to $25,000. Again, you do not need an attorney and the court has forms and people to help you file a claim. Click to find out more about Nassau District Court or Suffolk District Court.)
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.