A winter storm roared through California, leaving heavy snow, and weeks of rain. The storm caused the crashing of pines and oaks, as well as power loss for thousands of residential homes and commercial buildings.

The storm caused a massive tree to crash and fall in the night, splitting the office building of a local dentist in two.  In addition, the same storm uprooted a massive pine over 100 feet tall. The roots were no longer attached to the ground, thus removing the source of life and balance for the tree, causing it to call on a local veterinary hospital. The uprooted tree, which was owned by a neighboring property owner who was currently out of state, hung suspended over the veterinary hospital that housed sick dogs and cats and a neighboring property. Emergency personnel could not allow access to the veterinary hospital as it was a public safety hazard.

The veterinarian placed multiple calls to the out-of-state neighbor. The calls went unanswered. On the fourth day after the storm, the veterinarian decided to hire a tree faller to drop the snag that hung suspended over his hospital.

After the emergency removal of the tree, contact with the neighbor was finally made, and the response was, “Do whatever you have to do.”  The neighbor approached his insurance company which denied coverage, as the tree had not “fallen.”

The veterinarian suggested splitting the cost equally with the neighbor. The neighbor refused the suggested billing and saw an attorney under the reasoning the veterinarian was trespassing by entering the his parcel where the tree was partially situated.  The veterinarian saw his own attorney and they took an opposing position. A lawsuit was filed and a court date was set.

The neighbor and owner of the tree was living out of state temporarily, because his wife developed a rare terminal disease while travelling. The neighbor’s priorities were to give love and attention to his wife rather than a lawsuit.

All communications broke down between the parties.

The court was wise, and suggested a pre-mediation, in consideration of the long distance between the parties. Months were spent on the phone between the neighbor and veterinarian.  Each took strong positions, many issues were discussed, including the possibility of a compromise avoiding the cost of travel and the necessity for the neighbor to leave his wife’s bedside.

During the last conversation, the neighbor made a decision that he would rather go to trial and contest this dispute, desiring to stand on principal.

Both the neighbor and veterinarian entered the courtroom and presented the tree dispute that they each wanted to be decided by the court. The neighbor was prepared to lose his case and pay a judgment. The veterinarian wanted his day in court and damages.

The court once again made a wise decision, and referred both of them to take a shot at mediation a final time.

In mediation, lines were drawn, hours were spent and strong beliefs and positions were shared. Emotions were high and tears flowed. The mediator encouraged the neighbor and veterinarian to consider new possibilities. “What creative ideas would anyone have to resolve this dispute versus a trial?”

The veterinarian turned to the mediator and suggested that he would waive his claim for damages, if the neighbor would cut a third tree that was also a threat to his hospital.

Discussions were held and the neighbor stated he really wanted the lawsuit over so that he could return to his dying wife. An agreement was drafted clearly stating how the conflict was to be resolved and which all parties signed.

The law suit was dismissed.

Consensus was achieved, a lawsuit avoided, and the parties started a healing process, providing another example of the value of mediation as a means to open communication lines.

As the mediator, I learned once again a valuable lesson: it is not about positions, or the law, but opening communication lines and being respectful to each side.

I think today we all “won.”

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