stressed-is-desserts-speeled-backwardsThere are many reasons why a lawsuit should be resolved through mediation.  Time and money saved by mediating a case, instead of litigating it, may relatively easy to quantify.  But what’s the emotional cost to parties of litigation?  That cost can be measured as well.

Those experienced with litigation, either as an attorney or a party, know how stressful the litigation process can be.  There are studies that quantify that stress so the rest of us can find out as well.

The subjects of the studies were physicians being sued for malpractice.  The findings of one study show:

  • 96% of the physicians studied reported they experienced at least a temporary period of emotional disruption,
  • 33% acknowledged feeling a cluster of symptoms related to depression,
  • 26% experienced a period of anger, and
  • 16% reported the onset or exacerbation of a physical illness such as gastrointestinal problems, heart attack or headaches.

Other stress reactions include tension, frustration, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, loss of pleasure in work, loss of confidence, loss of nerve and social withdrawal.

In another survey, physicians identifying malpractice litigation as the most stressful event they have experienced gave three reasons:

  • The patient was either a personal friend or a long-standing patient,
  • They had feelings of low self-esteem, humiliation or self-doubt about their competence, and
  • The suit resulted in overwhelming feelings of anger, frustration and devastation.

Researchers have compared experiencing malpractice litigation to the stages of grief experienced after death or loss:

Stage 1 – Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”

Stage 2 – Anger: “This is a vicious, untrue allegation.”

Stage 3 – Bargaining: “If the case is decided in my favor, I will faithfully read new medical literature.”

Stage 4 – Depression: “Why bother fighting it? It’s a hopeless cause.”

Stage 5 – Acceptance: “I hate this, but I will cope as best I can.”

The subjects of these studies are physicians, so a couple things should be noted.  It wouldn’t be surprising if other professionals (lawyers, accountants, engineers) react the same way.  Physicians are highly trained, educated people who regularly work in very stressful situations.  How stressful would litigation be for someone “off the street” to be sued?

These negative, harmful, lasting emotional and physical responses can be limited by resolving a malpractice case through mediation.  The longer the process goes, the more stressful events there will be, the greater the negative impact.  Parties who may not be in the best emotional or psychological health to begin with should be especially interested in settling a case, because litigation surely won’t make them any better.

It is also important that knowing about the stress of litigation can be another tool in your toolbox to help the client understand why resolution through mediation is better than a litigated solution:  Decreasing the stress in their life.

Mediation, instead of litigation, can result in avoiding many costs for the client: time, money, energy and emotion.