Topics on this page:
- Alternatives to Court
Many cases come to trial needlessly because the parties have not attempted to communicate with each other. Before suing someone in court, consider your alternatives because going to court may have drawbacks:
- The court process may be time consuming.
- There are costs involved. Once you consider the costs of going to court (including your time off from work), you may do better if you can work out a settlement.
- Even if you win your case, you may have trouble collecting the money.
- If you win, the defendant may appeal the decision, and you may have to go through a new court process.
TIP: Keep good records of all your attempts to resolve the problem in case that it is necessary to go to court later. Good records means keeping copies of all letters and a written record of all phone calls and in-person conversations. Even though many agencies may accept a complaint over the phone, submit your complaint in writing so that an accurate record exists of the dispute.
Alternatives to Court
Talk to the other side
It is surprising how often the other side is willing to work out something if you approach them in an open fashion. Before you talk, consider your alternatives so you know your other options if the conversation fails.
Write a formal “demand” letter
This is your chance to present your view of the facts and what you think needs to be done. Learn more about demand letters.
Work with Organizations Offering Assistance Resolving Problems Without Going to Court
Better Business Bureau - If you have a consumer problem with a business, try the local Better Business Bureau (BBB). BBBs are nonprofit organizations supported primarily by local business members and offer a variety of consumer services.
- A BBB will act as an intermediary between consumers and businesses to help resolve complaints.
- BBBs provide alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration.
- Many BBBs publish consumer education material.
- Companies carrying the BBB seal have been checked out by the BBB. They have agreed to work with the BBB to resolve customer concerns regarding goods or services.
BBBs can help you with certain types of consumer problems but not everything. BBBs can handle complaints relating to buying and selling goods and services in the marketplace, including advertising claims. BBBs will handle complaints involving all types of businesses - online, “bricks and mortar”, BBB members, non-members. They also accept complaints against charities and non-profit organizations.
Sample case types include: misleading advertising, complaint about a good or service, cell phone service, charity giving, complaint about how your private information collected online was used or a complaint about children’s advertising.
A BBB is not the right place to start your complaint process if you have a complaint about:
- debt collection practices;
- the services of a health care professional or lawyer (although you can complain about billing practices); or
- employer/employee wage disputes.
Contact your local BBB for information about filing a complaint. You can write your local BBB or file a complaint online.
Mediation is a process where a trained impartial person (a "mediator") helps people in a dispute communicate, understand each other, and reach agreement if possible.
If your case is pending in the District Court, the District Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Office coordinates a mediation and settlement program. The program can differ from county to county, but most courts will offer a chance to mediate before the trial. Some courts offer same day mediation on the day of the trial. All programs are voluntary. Learn more about the District Court's Alternative Dispute Resolution Office.
The Office of the Maryland Attorney General offers mediation to resolve complaints against businesses and complaints about health insurance and health services or homeowners insurance.