A winter storm roared through California, leaving heavy snow, and weeks of rain that caused crashing pines & oaks, as well as power loss for thousands of residential homes and commercial buildings.
The storm caused a massive tree to crash and fall the night, splitting the office building of a local dentist in two. In addition the same storm uprooted a massive pine over 100 feet tall. The roots were no longer attached to the ground, thus removing the source of life support and balance for the tree.
That uprooted tree hung suspended over a Veterinary Hospital that housed sick dogs and cats. Emergency personnel could not allow access to the Veterinary Hospital as it was a public safety hazard.
The Veterinarian placed multiple calls to the out of state owner whose property contained the now-threatening tree. The calls went unanswered. On the 4th day, a decision was made by the Veterinarian to hire a tree faller to drop the snag that hung suspended over his hospital. The Veterinarian paid the tree faller $2,400 dollars for this emergency
After the emergency removal of the tree, contact with the out of state owner was finally made, and the response was, “Do whatever you have to do.” The out of state owner approached his insurance company and they denied coverage, as the tree had not “fallen.”
The Veterinarian suggested splitting the cost equally. The neighbor denied the suggested billing and saw an attorney. The position that they took was that the Veterinarian was trespassing by entering the neighbor’s parcel where the tree was situated. The Veterinarian saw his attorney and they took a different position.
A law suit was filed, and a court date was set.
The defendant tree owner was living out of state temporarily, because his wife developed a rare terminal disease while travelling. The defendant’s priorities were to give love and attention of his wife rather than a lawsuit.
All communications broke down between the long term neighbors. The court was wise, and suggested a pre-mediation, in consideration of the long distance between the parties. Months were spent on the phone between the plaintiff and defendant. Each took strong positions, many issues were discussed including the possibility of a compromise, avoiding the cost of travel and the necessity for the defendant to leave his wife’s bedside.
During the last conversation, the Defendant made a decision that he would rather go to trial and contest this dispute, desiring to stand on principal.
Both the Plaintiff and Defendant entered the courtroom as neighbors and presented the tree dispute that they each wanted to be decided by the court. The Defendant was prepared to lose his case and pay a judgment. The Plaintiff wanted his day in court and $2,400.
The court once again made a wise decision, and referred the both of them to take a shot at mediation a final time.
In mediation, lines were drawn, hours were spent and strong beliefs and positions were shared. Emotions were high and tears flowed.
The mediator encouraged the disputants to consider new possibilities. “What creative ideas would anyone have to resolve this dispute versus a tria1?”
The Veterinarian turned to the mediator and suggested that he would waive the $2,400 claim, if his neighbor, the Defendant, would cut a “3rd Tree”, that was also a threat to his hospital.
Discussions were held and the Defendant stated that he really wanted the lawsuit over so that he could return to his dying wife.
An agreement was drafted clearly stating how the conflict was to be resolved and which all parties signed. The law suit was dismissed.
Consensus was achieved, a lawsuit avoided, and the neighbors started a healing process, providing another example of the value of mediation as a means to open communication lines.
As the mediator, I learned once again valuable lessons, that it is not about positions, or the law, but opening communication lines and being respectful to each side.
I think today we all “won.”
by Jim Hildreth