The ABA Journal recently published an article about some Florida homeowners who spent $220,000 and 11 years of their lives to "win" a dispute with their homeowners association over a $2,212 bill assessed by the HOA. Like so many other cases like this, the only people who ever really stand to win in a case like this are the lawyers on both sides.
Although we have no way to know how much the HOA paid their lawyers, they got paid regardless of who won. As the article describes, the homeowners' lawyers have already been paid $220,000 - money they would likely have earned regardless of the outcome. Although the court has set a hearing to determine how much the homeowners should be awarded in attorneys' fees, it seems they could be awarded far less than they actually spent. In my experience, that is frequently the case in Arizona.
The real lesson from this article is how easy it can be for a lawsuit to get out of hand. Even more than the money spent by both sides, this dispute over roughly $2,000 dragged on for over a decade, likely inflicting untold and uncompensible emotional damage on all involved - not to mention the time lost that could have been spent on more productive endeavors.
As an attorney who represents homeowners involved in disputes with HOA's, I've seen examples like this far too many times. While I certainly stand to gain financially from a case like this getting out of hand, however, I consider it part of my job to do everything I can to keep that from happening. In most cases, both parties are served by finding a middle ground and resolving a matter quickly, even if that involves some short-term paid. Unfortunately, that isn't always possible, but an experienced HOA lawyer should be able to help a homeowner avoid a result like this.