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Lawsuits Between Non-Profits Harm All

After the four-day trial, one of the jurors called it a "heartbreaking" case, even as he and his
fellow panelists took only two and a half hours to award the plaintiff $1.7 million. One board member of the defendant company said of the case before the trial, "I think it's morally offensive." Just days after the jury award was upheld on appeal, the plaintiff's lawyer told me, with what I sensed was rueful disappointment, "I'd guess both sides spent close to a million dollars on the litigation."

What kind of lawsuit can elicit such reactions? A lawsuit brought by one charity against another certainly can. Unlike commercial disputes, in which one business is suing another and paying the lawyers with funds taken, ultimately, from private profits, in a lawsuit between charities, the lawyers are paid with money that would otherwise support a charitable purpose. Even in victory, the "winning" charity's donors and managers can't help calculating how much more good work could have been done had they not gone to court. The "losing" charity feels exactly the same. How is it, then, that such lawsuits begin, much less go to trial? And how do you explain an appeal?


Bruce D. Collins

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