Mediation in Classic Car Disputes
Peter Quegan outlines the legal aspects of mediation in the classic car sector.
The classic car restoration scene is perhaps more prone to disputes between businesses and their customers than many other areas: In essence it involves a fellow (or lady) putting his pride and joy, often owned for many years and sometimes also of great financial as well as sentimental value, in the hands of someone who may have to make it look much worse before it starts to look better; Significantly, it also often means a task which is difficult to estimate the cost of, either because one person's idea of a restoration is not the same as another's or because the brief changes as the job progresses; sometimes the relationship between owner and restorer breaks down mid restoration, with a vehicle awkwardly stuck in limbo.Moreover, it is not simply in restorations that disputes can arise, there can be: damage in transit or storage; disputes as to the sale price, commission or provenance; even the sale of inappropriate parts or the undertaking of allegedly substandard routine maintenance; it is also clear that whilst there are many specialist insurers in the classic car world, insurance related disputes are not unknown.
The natural course of such a dispute, after the angry words and letters, can often be litigation. However, the only winners in such a situation tend to be the lawyers. Disputes under £10,000 are dealt with in what is colloquially known as the ‘small claims court' at the local county court, but the court fee just for issuing the claim can amount to £455. Additionally, the process does not allow for the recovery of solicitors' fees, so if a lawyer is instructed, then the legal costs can soon outweigh the amount in dispute. The process can also be long and stressful. Disputes over £10,000 do allow for legal fees to be recovered, but almost as a result the costs quickly grow to the point where no one can afford to compromise and losing can mean losing everything.
Increasingly mediation is seen as the way ahead, often providing a quick cost-effective alternative to potentially years of litigation. The process is essentially one in which a knowledgeable neutral looks at the available papers, letters or statements from the parties and possibly photographs and then tries to establish whether there is any common ground. There is no mandatory procedure and the parties do not have to have lawyers representing them. Sometimes the mediation begins with the parties stating their positions face to face in a single room, before retiring to their own rooms. Sometimes the parties never see each other and the positions are communicated via the Mediator. However the process begins the mediator then generally gives the parties his view of the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases on a strictly confidential basis, then seeking small moves from the parties, or party, depending upon the mediator's assessment. Bit by bit the difference between the parties narrows, even though either one is able to walk away from the process at any point.
Whilst the mediator has no power to force an agreement and does not seek to arbitrate or judge between the parties, the surprise is quite how high a proportion of such cases end in an agreement, even a handshake. The terms of an agreement are unlimited, as the parties reach an agreement with each other, not the mediator.
Even in cases in which agreement is not immediately reached, the area of dispute tends to narrow and as both parties have had a neutral tell them the weaknesses of their case, a delayed settlement often results. In cases in which settlement cannot be reached, the ultimate cost of the dispute is arguably less than it would otherwise have been, by virtue of the narrowing of issues.
Peter Quegan regularly appears in court in civil disputes, but also undertakes mediation both as a representative and as a mediator and has a range of classic vehicles, too many as his wife constantly tells him, including: his first ever car, a 1973 Rover P5bCoupe, now twice restored during his ownership; a 1969 Volvo Amazon 123GT upon which he has been doing a nut and bolt restoration for some years; a 1968 Daimler Sovereign 420; a 1999 Rover 800; a 2001 Daimler SuperV8 x308 LWB (daily transport); a 2005 Jaguar XJ 4.2 LWB and; a beetle back 500cc JZR three wheeler. In addition Peter owns a 1954 BSA A10 and a 1991 Enfield Bullet.