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1197 Reaching a Legal Settlement

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,197 – Reaching a Legal Settlement.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,197. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com, where there is no singing, but there is a Learning Guide for this episode that you can download right after you become a member of ESL Podcast. The Learning Guide contains a complete transcript of everything we say.

This episode is a dialogue between Nadia and Andre about legal problems. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Nadia: I’m not sure about this civil lawsuit. I don’t want a long trial.

Andre: Relax. This case will never go to trial. For disputes of this kind, neither party wants to fight it out in court, so we almost always reach a settlement.

Nadia: If we do go to court, the legal fees could skyrocket. I couldn’t afford that.

Andre: If we reach a settlement, you won’t have to worry too much about that.

Nadia: All right, but what if they don’t want to admit wrongdoing?

Andre: If we reach a settlement, they don’t need to. They’ll simply pay out.

Nadia: Even if they don’t admit it, at least I’ll be able to talk freely about it.

Andre: Well, that might be a problem. Many settlements require confidentiality – from both parties.

Nadia: You mean if I settle, I can’t talk about it?

Andre: If there is a confidentiality clause, you’d be in breach of contract if you discussed the settlement.

Nadia: I didn’t know that. You mean I can’t talk about what they did to me without getting my day in court?

Andre: That’s the long and short of it.

Nadia: I guess justice is blind – but only for the rich!

[end of dialogue]

Nadia begins by saying, “I’m not sure about this civil lawsuit.” There are two kinds of issues that involve the court system, the legal system, in the United States. One is “criminal” – that’s when you break a law, such as one against stealing or a law against killing someone. That would be a “criminal offense.” A “civil” (civil) issue is one where you do something wrong to someone else and the other person tries to get, usually, money from you.

For example, I’m driving down the street and I accidentally hit your car. You could try to get money from me. This would be what we would call a “civil action,” when you go to the government – to the court system, to the legal system – and try to get the government to force me to give you money. We would call this a “civil lawsuit” (lawsuit). A “lawsuit” is when I file a complaint, if you will, a legal case against you with the government to try to get you to pay me money for something you did wrong.

There are many different kinds of civil lawsuits in the U.S. Most of them involve getting money from another person or another organization who did something wrong to you. Nadia says, “I’m not sure about this civil lawsuit. I don’t want a long trial.” A “trial” (trial) refers to the time when you go in front of a judge in a court in order to decide if you are going to win your lawsuit or not. Andre says, “Relax. This case will never go to trial,” meaning you will never have to go in front of a judge. “For disputes of this kind, neither party wants to fight it out in court, so we almost always reach a settlement.”

A “dispute” (dispute) is a disagreement or an argument. The word “party” (party) here doesn’t refer to a celebration like a birthday party, but rather to a person or an organization who is involved in a legal action – in this case, a “civil lawsuit.” Andre says, “Neither party wants to fight it out in court.” “To fight it out” means to continue arguing. “In court” means in a court room, in a trial with a judge and lawyers and sometimes a “jury” (jury) – a group of people who decide who wins the case.

Andre says, “We almost always reach a settlement” (settlement). A “settlement” is an agreement where you decide to give money to the other person. Usually this happens without going in front of a judge. So I say, “I’m going to file a lawsuit against you.” I’m going to go to the court and ask the court to make you give me money. And you say, “Well, that’s not necessary. Let’s just agree that I will give you some money right now.” That agreement is called a “settlement.”

Nadia says, “If we do go to court,” meaning if we do go in front of a judge, “the legal fees could skyrocket.” “Legal fees” (fees) refers to money that you have to pay the lawyers and perhaps the court for having this lawsuit. The verb “to skyrocket” (skyrocket) means to increase very quickly, to increase dramatically. “The price of the house skyrocketed in the last year.” That means the price of the house went up very quickly in the past 12 months.

Nadia says that she’s afraid the legal fees could skyrocket. “I couldn’t afford that,” she says, meaning “I would not have enough money for that.” Andre says, “If we reach a settlement, you won’t have to worry too much about that.” Nadia says, “All right, but what if they don’t want to admit wrongdoing?” “To admit” (admit) means to say that you did something wrong. “Wrongdoing” (wrongdoing) – one word – refers to something that you did wrong, that you did something wrong.

Andre says, “If we reach a settlement, they don’t need to,” meaning if we reach an agreement, they don’t have to say, “Yes, we made a mistake.” He continues, “They’ll simply pay out.” “To pay (pay) out” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to give someone a large amount of money, a lot of money, usually as part of some sort of settlement, some sort of agreement.

Nadia says, “Even if they don’t admit it, at least I’ll be able to talk freely about it.” “To talk freely” (freely) means to be able to tell anyone you want about something. In this case, it would mean to talk about perhaps what the other person did wrong to you. Andre says, “Well, that might be a problem. Many settlements require confidentiality – from both parties.” “Confidentiality” (confidentiality) refers to not talking about something with anyone else. It refers to information that you cannot give to anyone else.

Many times when you work for a company, you have to agree not to tell anyone outside of your company about what the company is doing. That’s “confidentiality.” You have to not tell anyone the company secrets. Sometimes legal settlements require that you be quiet about that. You don’t tell anyone about what the other person or company did to you that caused them to pay you money. So the agreement basically says, “You can’t tell anyone about what we did.” That’s part of the agreement in which you will get money. I’ll give you money, but you can’t tell anyone about it.

That’s a “confidentiality agreement” – a promise not to talk about something. This often requires that both parties to the agreement keep quiet about what happened. “Parties” again means the people involved or the organizations involved in the settlement. Nadia says, “You mean if I settle, I can’t talk about it?” Notice the use of the verb there, “to settle.” “To settle” means to sign a settlement agreement.

Andre says, “If there is a confidentiality clause, you’d be in breach of contract if you discussed the settlement.” A “clause” (clause) refers to a section or a part of a legal agreement. If the settlement has a “confidentiality clause,” a section that requires you not to talk about it, then if you did talk about it, you would be “in breach (breach) of contract.” A “contract” is an agreement. The verb “to breach” means to break or violate.

A “breach of contract” is when someone violates the contract, when someone doesn’t do what the contract or agreement says he’s supposed to do. So, if there’s a “confidentiality clause” in the settlement and you talk about it, you are going to be “in breach of contract.” You, therefore, have broken the agreement, and usually when you break an agreement, when you don’t follow an agreement, there are penalties that you have to pay. There are things that you have to do as punishment.

Nadia says, “I didn’t know that. You mean I can’t talk about what they did to me without getting my day in court?” “To get your day in court” means to actually go in front of a judge and talk about what happened as part of a civil lawsuit. If you sign an agreement with someone, there is no court appearance. There is no day in court. You don’t go in front of a judge.

So what Nadia is asking is if it’s true that if she signs this agreement, she won’t get to tell anyone about what this company or this organization did to her – that is, she won’t get her day in court to explain to the whole world what happened. Andre says, “That’s the long and short of it.” The expression “the long and short” of something means that is correct. That is an accurate statement. We usually use this expression when we’re trying to give someone a short answer, or a summary of a longer story or a more complicated piece of information.

Someone may ask you, “Well, what happened yesterday?” “Well,” you could say, “this person said this, and the other person said that, but the long and short of it is, we’re all going to lose our jobs.” “The long and short” of something is a brief statement of whatever that information is. You might say, “Well, why don’t you just say ‘the short of it?’” I don’t know, but that’s not the expression. We say “the long and short of it,” even though it’s really just the short version of some longer piece of information.

Nadia says, “I guess justice is blind – but only for the rich!” The expression “justice (justice) is blind (blind)” is used to show that the law is fair, that the law doesn’t care about who you are. Nadia says that she thinks “justice is blind,” meaning our legal system is fair, “only for the rich” – only for people who have a lot of money.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Nadia: I’m not sure about this civil lawsuit. I don’t want a long trial.

Andre: Relax. This case will never go to trial. For disputes of this kind, neither party wants to fight it out in court, so we almost always reach a settlement.

Nadia: If we do go to court, the legal fees could skyrocket. I couldn’t afford that.

Andre: If we reach a settlement, you won’t have to worry too much about that.

Nadia: All right, but what if they don’t want to admit wrongdoing?

Andre: If we reach a settlement, they don’t need to. They’ll simply pay out.

Nadia: Even if they don’t admit it, at least I’ll be able to talk freely about it.

Andre: Well, that might be a problem. Many settlements require confidentiality – from both parties.

Nadia: You mean if I settle, I can’t talk about it?

Andre: If there is a confidentiality clause, you’d be in breach of contract if you discussed the settlement.

Nadia: I didn’t know that. You mean I can’t talk about what they did to me without getting my day in court?

Andre: That’s the long and short of it.

Nadia: I guess justice is blind – but only for the rich!

[end of dialogue]

I could talk about the qualities of great scriptwriters on the Internet, but the long and short of it is that the best one is our scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
civil – related to what occurs between ordinary people or members of a community; not related to criminal activities

* They had a civil ceremony at City Hall and then a religious wedding ceremony at the church.

lawsuit – a legal case filed by one person or organization against another

* The farmers have decided to file a lawsuit against the seed manufacturer.

trial – a legal case in court; the period of time when the court hears the arguments and statements from all people involved in a lawsuit

* The trial lasted for days as the lawyers continued to present new evidence.

dispute – an argument or disagreement

* How can we end this dispute between the workers and the management?

to fight it out – to continue to argue about something to the very end, until a solution is found

* Instead of fighting it out, couldn’t you just try to forgive and forget?

in court – in a courtroom; in a trial with a judge, jury, and lawyers

* They had a friendly divorce and were able to agree on most things on their own, without having everything heard in court.

settlement – an agreement to end a lawsuit, usually with a large payment made by one side to the other side

* The company agreed to a settlement, paying thousands of dollars to the woman who was suing for employment discrimination.

legal fee – the amount of money paid to one’s lawyer and, if applicable, the courts and other parts of the judicial system

* It doesn’t make sense to sue someone for just $100, because the legal fees will always be more than that.

to skyrocket – to increase very quickly and dramatically

* Many families are eating less meat because of skyrocketing prices.

to admit wrongdoing – to say that one has done something wrong; to recognize and publicly talk about one’s guilt

* All we want is for the corporation to admit wrongdoing and apologize to the people who have been hurt.

to pay out – to pay a large amount of money, especially to bring an end to a problem

* The only way to keep the investors happy is to pay out larger profits each year.

to talk freely – to speak openly, sharing one’s honest thoughts and opinions, without weakening or disguising them in any way

* For this counseling session to work, you need to feel comfortable enough to talk freely and share your thoughts and emotions.

confidentiality – a promise that information will not be shared because it is private or sensitive, or the need to make such a promise

* Bank employees must maintain the confidentiality of the information contained in their clients’ loan applications.

party – a person or organization involved in a contract or lawsuit

* The guilty party will have to pay a large fine.

clause – one part or section of a legal agreement or contract

* This clause states that the landlord cannot raise the rent for the first twelve months.

breach of contract – a violation of the terms of a contract; a failure to comply with the requirements of a legal agreement

* Any failure to disclose conflicts of interest is a breach of your employment contract.

to get (one’s) day in court – to have one’s argument or case be heard in a courtroom as part of a legal trial, especially when one believes one has a very strong case and is likely to win

* The company got away with the abuse last time, but this time I’ll be sure to get my day in court.

the long and short of it – an accurate, full summary that includes all the important information about something; the main idea of something

* I don’t want to bore you with a long explanation, but the long and short of it is that we cannot sell these devices anymore because they have safety problems.

justice is blind – a phrase meaning that the law is fair and does not care about personal characteristics, but only about complying with and enforcing the law

* The presidential candidate said in her speech: “They say that justice is blind, but if that’s true, why are so many minorities and poor people in prison?”

Comprehension Questions
1. What will happen if the legal fees skyrocket?
a) They will increase very quickly.
b) They will be paid by another person.
c) They will be forgiven by the court.

2. What does Nadia mean when she says, “At least I’ll be able to talk freely”?
a) She won’t have to pay for the opportunity to speak.
b) She’ll be able to say whatever she wants.
c) She’ll have an audience interested in hearing her speak.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to pay out

The phrase “to pay out,” in this podcast, means to pay a large amount of money, especially to bring an end to a problem: “The insurance company is refusing to pay out what they owe us.” The phrase “to pay off” means to pay all the money that is owed on a particular loan: “They hope to pay off their home loan by the end of next year.” The phrase “to pay (someone) off” means to pay someone so that he or she does not say something or share information about something that is damaging, embarrassing, or illegal: “We can’t win this case. There are too many witnesses, and there’s no way we can pay them all off.” The phrase “to pay up” mean to pay the money that is due when it is due: “The bartender insisted that we pay up before she would let us buy more drinks.”

the long and short of it

In this podcast, the phrase “the long and short of it” means an accurate, full description or summary that includes all the important information about something: “It would take forever to read through this contract, but the long and short of it is that we are giving them the right to reproduce all our creative work in exchange for a yearly fee.” The phrase “long face” describes someone who looks very sad: “Why the long face? Did something happen?” The phrase “short on (something)” means having a little of something: “In this home, we’re short on money, but we’re happy.” Finally, the phrase “long-winded” means talking for a long time, using more words than necessary: “The lecture lasted for almost two hours, because the professor is very long winded.”

Culture Note
Binding Arbitration

“Binding arbitration” is a way for two parties to end a dispute without involving the courts. In binding arbitration, the parties “refer” (send for consultation) their dispute to a “third party” (another person who is not involved in the dispute) for arbitration, and that person’s decision is “binding” (something that people must agree to, and that cannot be changed).

The Federal Arbitration Act, “enacted” (made into law) in 1925, “governs” (has control over) arbitration for “interstate” (between states or countries) “commerce” (business; buying and selling). The parties must agree that the arbitration” (there is no way to undo the arbitrator’s decision), and they must agree to the arbitration “in lieu of” (instead of) going to the courts. The “Supreme Court” (the most powerful court in the United States) has made it clear that the arbitrator’s decision is “final” and cannot be “appealed” (sent to another person or court for review and a new judgment).

The arbitrators are usually a single individual or a “tribunal” (a small group) of three people. The arbitrators might be selected and “appointed” (named to a particular position) by the parties involved in the dispute, but the arbitrator should be a “neutral” (without favoring one side or the other) third party, without any “conflict of interest” (a financial or emotional motivation to behave in a particular way or make a particular decision).

Many businesspeople like arbitration, because they can appoint a technical expert if the dispute involves a lot of technical details. Arbitration is also usually faster, more “discreet” (private; without information being shared with many people), and more convenient than taking the dispute to court. Arbitration fees are often significantly less than the legal fees associated with “retaining” (hiring for service) attorneys.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b