The Evolution of Conflict Resolution

Conflict has been with us since time began. Cave dwellers settled disputes by bashing each other over the head with large clubs — a technique many risk managers wish they could resurrect when dealing with underwriters.

In medieval times, conflicts were resolved by storming each others castles. Stormers used catapults, battering rams, and arrows. Stormees used moats, raised drawbridges, and boiling oil. Both sides shouted colorful epithets such as “A pox upon your house!”, “Fie, you varlets!”, “A murrain on thee!”, and “Your mother wears combat boots!” Emotions really ran high.

As civilization developed, personal duels came into vogue. Two contenders stood back-to-back, walked 10 paces, turned and fired pistols. If one was killed, it proved the killer’s honor had been satisfied. That shows how far civilization had advanced.

In our Old West, duelers faced each other at high noon on Main Street in a quick-draw contest. The loser usually had a bullet through the heart while the winner got to strum a guitar and sing about saddling up Old Paint. Dumb, but at least there was no nonsense about honor.

We now see that these methods were inhuman, barbaric, and demeaning. Today, our highly evolved brains have carried “inhuman, barbaric, and demeaning” to new heights. We have the lawsuit.

American lawsuits take many forms. A man trying to burglarize a school fell through a skylight, sued the school for an “unsafe condition,” and won. A boss sexually harassed a woman employee, who sued the company and won — not an apology and a few thousand dollars for her discomfort — but enough money to live the rest of her life in luxury. A car manufacturer painted over a scratch in the new paint and was hit with punitive damages in the millions.

A fat man ate too much ice cream over many years, sued ice cream manufacturers for luring him into a health-threatening condition, and won millions with a variation of the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. [OK, I made that last one up, but the others are true.]

Today, you can be taken to court for telling the truth about why someone was fired, saying nothing about why someone was fired, arresting a thief, not arresting a thief, owning a company whose stock goes up, owning a company whose stock goes down, or just owning property in which something bad takes place; or, if the plaintiff’s attorney runs out of creative ideas, for causing “extreme mental anguish.”

Anguish can be caused by anything. In the old days, if you found a fly in your soup, you made the waiter take it back. Today, you find a lawyer who specializes in that sort of thing, and sue. Such lawyers are easy to find. Look in the Classified Attorneys Directory under “Soup, Flies In.”

Lawsuits over what used to be considered minor annoyances in themselves cause “extreme mental anguish” to those sued. It’s a wonder someone hasn’t countersued on that basis. You can bet that one of these days, they will.

Today, the rule is that if you are offended by anything at all, find a lawyer and sue. If the city bus stops on the corner instead of in front of your house, sue the unresponsive city officials. If the woman at the next desk wears an irritating perfume, sue her, but remember that her insurance won’t respond because of the pollution exclusion. Sue all these people, but don’t tell them I put you up to it. If you do, I’ll sue you for everything you’ve got.