Nearly two decades ago I had the occasion to attend a small claims court case between an operator and a carrier. My client’s case was fairly straight forward, the carrier refused to pay the operator for miles as well as an insurance claim that clearly belonged to him. The details of the case is actually told in story form in the first chapter of my second book “Making Your Miles Count: choosing a trucking company”.
The plaintiff began his argument outlining the operator carrier contract and over viewing the documents missing pay and insurance claim issue. About 45 minutes into the presentation, half way through the insurance claim story, the magistrate held up his hand and asked for clarification. “…this truck you keep talking about, its not a half ton truck?”
Both the plaintiff and the defendant looked at each other in stunned disbelief. After a few minutes of back and forth explanation, it was clear that the magistrate had no understanding about the transportation industry at all. Both the plaintiff and defendant came together in a rather comical dance trying to educate him on carriers, highway tractors and freight movement. He had no clue how store shelves were restocked. He had never even considered that freight other than that what he saw on trains needed to be moved. He had always wondered what those big rolling boxy things on the highway were. After five minutes he thanked them both for their information.
The details of the conflict were further articulated and it appeared from the magistrates responses he understood the contract conflict presented. In his final questions he nailed down the issues in what I thought was a fairly clear, logical and simple form. After presentation both parties left and were scheduled to return to hear the verdict.
Two weeks later the parties were standing together again before the magistrate. The verdict was read, apparently outlining the steps of logic the magistrate used. The problem was, the verdict’s logic was indescribably irrelevant and read like it was the summary of a completely different case. It refereed to things that weren’t even testified to and was clearly baffling to both parties. As the informal setting of small claims court sometimes allows, both the plaintiff and defendant asked for clarification on points during the summary trying to determine if he was even reading the right case. However, once the verdict in favor of the defendant was stated, the plaintiff was left alone asking for assistance. He was soon shut down.
In the hall, after dismissal, the defendants were openly laughing as they left. They certainly won that battle.
The case was appealed under a different magistrate and settled in favor of the plaintiff about nine months later but the experience taught me a clear lesson about justice. Sometimes, there are incredibly foreign events and outcomes. To successfully see your day in court may very well take two… or more.
The carrier in this case is no longer in business. The president declared bankruptcy less than two years after these events and neither him nor the vice president are even in the transportation industry (to my knowledge). They may have won that battle but they lost the war.
Unethical business practices can sometimes pay in the short term but eventually will be paid may times over in the long run. Investing in your business and in your life is more than just asset purchases, sometimes they are intangible investments. Ensuring your suppliers and customers know they deal with an ethical company requires an occasional check as well.
Persistence and patience, which are sisters, are indispensable in building a long term profitable venture.