How to deal with possibly litigious client
August 11, 2012 8:08 PM Subscribe
We're a small auto-repair business. How do we deal with a potentially litigious client?
posted by anonymous to law & government (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Recently, our small, family-owned auto repair business received an email from a client who is dissatisfied with an expensive repair that the client says was not completed to their satisfaction. We take client concerns very seriously, but there is something about this one that seems different. The complaint was made to us via email, and the content and style of the message reads very much as if it had been written by a lawyer.
This gives us pause because usually our clients just talk to us about their concerns. Because we know that auto repair is not an exact science -- diagnosis can be very challenging and require considerable research and time, and even then it is not always possible to get everything right the first time, although we manage to do so probably 97 times out of 100 -- we want to know when a client is not satisfied. As a small business in a closely knit community, where word of mouth is everything and many of our clients are people who are in our lives in other ways, too (friends or neighbors, for example, although the client in question is neither), we take the concerns that are brought to us very seriously and make every effort to resolve them to the satisfaction of the client. Once in a while, this policy results in a (financial) loss to us, but as a cost of doing business and preserving what we believe is a well-deserved reputation for integrity as well as competence, we consider it a worthwhile investment.
As I noted above, the complaint that this question is about is in reference to a complex (and expensive) set of repairs, so it is not impossible that the client has legitimate concerns. However, the lawyerly language and rhetorical style of the email, which requests that we respond via email and agree by a certain date to a very specific action, makes this complaint significantly different from others we have received over the years. The requested action would ostensibly commit us to a considerable expenditure of funds and at least a tacit admission of error. We are not comfortable with that because at this point, we do not have enough evidence to know with any certainty whether we are in fact responsible for some or all (or none) of the complaints cited. The client has not provided us with documentation or offered any, and they said in the email that they would not be comfortable letting us look at the car again, as they blame us for problems they claim are now at issue. So we cannot now rule out the possibility that they may be having buyer's remorse over an expensive repair that delivered as promised but did not make their car run like new again and/or prevent subsequent and possibly unrelated problems. It happens.
At this point, then, without significantly more information, there is vitually no chance that we will agree to their terms in an email by the deadline they've set, so I guess my question to you all is how to deal with this situation. As I said above, we have had to deal with complaints before -- there really is no such thing as 100% customer satisfaction, and we make mistakes sometimes, just like everyone who's human -- but this one is different. It reads different and it feels different. My antenna was quivering hard as I read that email.
So, I am asking: Do we need to lawyer up on Monday? (I think I already know the answer to that one.) Do we acknowledge the email in any way prior to speaking to legal counsel? If so, how do we respond?
I should probably note that I am disinclined to respond until we have sought legal advice but would be interested in hearing what the MeFi community has to say.
Thanks in advance for any insights you might have for us.