When to sue a contractor? When to let it go?

ScaleA tragedy occurred last week in Walnut Creek and the thought of it continues to haunt me. Here’s what was reported yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News:

Murder and other felony charges were filed Tuesday against a Martinez contractor who prosecutors say killed a Walnut Creek man during a confrontation over a home remodeling job that sparked a lawsuit. Read the whole story.

This is extreme, to say the least. But it got me thinking: When is it a good idea to sue a contractor for bad or incomplete work?

And when is it just not worth it? When is it better to accept the loss and move on?

Anyone who’s been involved in a lawsuit knows how nerve-wracking and time consuming it is. There may be headaches involved, and stomachaches and sleepless nights. It can mean months or years of negativity. And even when people win, they often can’t collect.

Nolo, which provides legal information to non-lawyers, gives tips on deciding whether to sue someone and suggests you ask yourself three questions:

1. Do I have a good case?

2. Am I comfortable with the idea of a compromise settlement or going to mediation?

3. Assuming a lawsuit is my best or only option, can I collect if I win?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all three questions, Nolo’s advice is that you don’t sue.

Most of us would focus only on the first issue: Do I have a good case? And often, there is no doubt at all that is true. You might have a great contract. And abundant evidence of work not done or done badly. But issue No. 2 — a willingness to compromise or call in a mediator — is hard to do when one is consumed with anger or hurt.

And issue No. 3 is profound: A deadbeat cannot and will not pay up.

So there might be times — especially if your life savings is not on the line — when not suing might be the kindest thing to do for yourself.

Have you ever sued a contractor for bad work, or decided not to? And would you recommend your course of action to others?