Think carefully before you embroil your company in a lawsuit. Lawsuits are expensive and risky. A lawsuit can backfire in several ways. You can face counterclaims. You can be charged with the legal fees and costs of your opponent if your claims are not well grounded. You expose your company to producing private business documents and testifying under oath, which can open you up to more problems.
As a successful business, you have to deal with some dirty, rotten scoundrels. These could include competitors, current or former business partners, former employees or other business enemies. They may pull various dirty tricks on your business. Steal your key employees. Defame you. Falsely report you to government agencies or authorities. They may even file frivolous lawsuits against you or your clients. If you are feeling paranoid, it’s only because they are out to get you.
These dirty tricks can hurt your business. It is human nature to be enraged and want to fight back. Resist the temptation to go off half-cocked and respond in kind. Take a deep breath. Tell yourself that it is just business. Now start plotting your revenge. Plotting is the key word. Speak to an experienced business litigator about the risks and rewards of various courses of action. You may greatly hamstring your own position if you do not plan carefully.
For example, don’t defame your opponents just because they have defamed you. Defamation law, which includes libel and slander, is surprisingly complicated. Unless you are 100% sure that the nasty letter/e-mail you are about to send is not even arguably defamatory, you probably should not send it.
Just because someone sues you does not mean you can or should sue them back. They may have a right to sue you or to report you to the government. These are protected activities under the Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP Statute. A lawsuit or counterclaim in this situation could subject your company to having to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees and costs, much to the delight of the scoundrel who took actions against you.
The takeaway is that businesses can get themselves in serious trouble when they act to harm a competitor, even when the competitor drew first blood. It’s like in sports when the referee always notices the player who reacts to a dirty play with one of his own. Your reaction, or over-reaction, may get your business in trouble and may even mask the original bad act by your business enemy.
The best revenge is to continue your success and crush your competitors in the market. You also may have a legitimate legal claim against them that will allow you to sue for your damages. While you should only file legitimate suits seeking legitimate damages, litigation may send an additional message that you will not be a punching bag. Sometimes there are other legal and ethical guerrilla tactics for particularly unsavory scoundrels.
There is no legal advice here. Contact a business litigator in your jurisdiction if you need legal advice on this topic.
By Adam P. Whitney, Esq.