Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Ryo Oyamada was fatally mowed down by a police car in New York City four years ago. An article in the New York Daily News today reported on the settlement of a family’s suit against the police department for the wrongful death of their son. I was struck by a statement the family is reported to have released explaining their decision to accept the settlement: “Our family feels that there is no way to hold the NYPD accountable through the court system.” It’s sad to hear of a party that feels so defeated by accepting a settlement.

I know nothing about this particular case, aside from the scanty details provided in the news article, but it seems unfortunate that the family believes that the  settlement they accepted does not provide even a small measure of accountability from the police department. That the family does not feel it has obtained justice reflects a number of possibilities. Perhaps the settlement amount was so far below what the family believed it was entitled to that they did not feel it was fair, even though it presumably accounted for both parties’ assessments of the risks and costs of continued litigation. Or perhaps, as is suggested in the article, the family felt that the police department failed to preserve or obtain necessary evidence, making it difficult to prove their case. Perhaps the family felt the court system was so flawed or biased that they could not obtain a fair trial. Or perhaps the process the parties engaged in was so expensive and time-consuming that they felt abused by that system.

Whatever the case, it is a shame that parties who have finally reached a negotiated resolution of their dispute walk away feeling that they have failed to achieve the goals they started with by bringing an action. A civil justice system that leaves such dissatisfied customers in its wake cannot count itself fully successful, even when it achieves a consensual disposition of a case.