Find Alternatives to Court

Before you sue, try to settle. Many cases come to trial needlessly because the parties have not attempted to communicate with each other.

Why it makes sense to talk first? There are serious drawbacks to going to court.

Tip – Keep in mind that you should keep good records of all of your attempts to resolve the problem in case that it is necessary to go to court later. “Good records” means that you should keep copies of all letters. Keep a written record of all phone calls.  Even though many agencies may accept a complaint over the phone, submit your complaint in writing so that an accurate record exists of the dispute.

Why it makes sense to talk first. There are drawbacks to going to court.

  • It may be time consuming.
  • Once you consider the costs of going to court (including your time off from work), you may do better if you can work out a settlement.
  • Even if you win your case, you may have trouble collecting the money.
  • If you win, the defendant may appeal the decision, and you may have to go through a new trial in Circuit Court.


Talk to the other side. It is surprising how often the other side is willing to work out something if you approach them in an open fashion. Before you talk, read this Guide so you know what your other options are if the conversation fails.


Write a formal “demand” letter. This is your chance to present your view of the facts and what you think needs to be done. We have provided a sample of a good demand letter and a bad one.


Consider working with the agencies that offer assistance resolving problems without going to court.

If you have a consumer problem with a business, first try the local Better Business Bureau (BBB).

BBBs are nonprofit organizations supported primarily by local business members. BBBs “promote an ethical marketplace by encouraging honest advertising and selling practices”. BBBs offer a variety of consumer services.

  • A BBB will act as an intermediary between consumers and businesses to help resolve complaints.
  • BBBs provide alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration.
  • Many BBBs publish consumer education material.
  • BBBs provide information about charities and other organizations that are seeking public donations.

Companies carrying the BBB seal have been checked out by the BBB. They have agreed to work with the BBB to resolve customer concerns regarding goods or services.

What types of problems do BBBs handle?

BBBs can help you with certain types of consumer problems but not everything. BBBs can handle complaints relating to buying and selling goods and services in the marketplace, including advertising claims. BBBs will handle complaints involving all types of businesses - online, “bricks and mortar”, BBB members, non-members. They also accept complaints against charities and non-profit organizations.

Sample case types include: misleading advertising, complaint about a good or service, cell phone service, charity giving, complaint about how your private information collected online was used or a complaint about children’s advertising.

A BBB is not the right place to start your complaint process if you have a complaint about:

  • debt collection practices;
  • the services of a health care professional or lawyer (although you can complain about billing practices); or
  • employer/employee wage disputes.

How do I file a complaint?

  • You can write your local BBB or file a complaint on-line.
  • Local information - You can find the address and phone number of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) that serves your area by entering your zip code in a Directory on BBB website.
  • You can file a complaint on-line

How does the BBB complaint process work?

They can help by contacting the local business and passing on your complaint. The business does not need to be a BBB member. Details on how the Better Business Bureau process works

Within a couple of days, your local BBB will then take the complaint to the company involved. Remember that the BBB does not represent you or take your side in the dispute. They will usually give the business 2 weeks to respond. BBBs report that they are able to resolve 70% of the complaints that they handle.

If the complaint cannot be satisfactorily resolved through contacting the business, the BBB may offer an alternative dispute settlement process, such as mediation or arbitration

Mediation and Your Case in the District Court

The District Court coordinates a mediation program that differs from county to county. After a case is filed in the District Court, an alternative dispute resolution coordinator will screen the case to see if it might benefit from mediation. Most courts will offer a chance to mediate before the trial. Some courts offer same day mediation on the day of the trial. All programs are voluntary.

Wondering if your court will help you find a mediator? Contact the District Court of Maryland's Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Office at 410-260-1676.

The Office of the MD Attorney General offers mediation to resolve complaints against businesses and complaints about health insurance and health services or homeowners insurance. 

Mediation Programs and District Court – Many of the District Court locations offer mediation programs – some before and some after a case has been filed. Check out what your county offers. More about mediation in District Court.

A special project of the Eastern Shore Regional Library under a Library Services Technology Act grant from the Division of Library Development Services/MD State Department of Education (author: Ayn H. Crawley). Edited by Jessica Nhem.
Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2020.”