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What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

You’ve hired a personal injury attorney to help you cover economic losses for you injury. He’s guided you through the process and mentions using an alternate dispute resolution rather than going to court. What exactly does this mean? What are the benefits of going this route?

Alternate Dispute Resolution refers to a growing trend in litigation whereby adversaries opt to have their disputes resolved by an independent party as opposed to the court system. It is especially relevant in personal injury law due to the lengthy court process and cost of litigation. Three main forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution are commonly used in personal injury litigation including motor vehicle accident cases. They are Mediation, Nonbinding Arbitration and Binding Arbitration. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.


Mediation is the process in which the parties to a claim or lawsuit meet with a specially trained mediator whose job is to review the case, discuss the issues and work towards bringing the parties to a mutually agreed upon resolution. This can usually lead to good results and I recommend it often.
The process is simple. Generally, the parties meet with the mediator in an office or conference room. First, the plaintiff, through his attorney, will present his version of the case stressing its stronger points. Next, the defendant will present their alternative version stressing their stronger points. After this, the mediator will speak to each party separately trying to find out how much the party is seeking to recover or willing to pay. Once the mediator gets an understanding of the case and each party’s belief of the value of the case, they will work to bring the parties to a meeting point. Depending on the mediator’s view he will usually have an amount he feels is fair and will work to settle the case within those parameters.

The mediation process can be grueling and stressful. I attended a mediation one time that lasted over eight hours. The case wasn’t even settled at the mediation. However, it was settled several weeks later. The mediation helped to get the parties within a certain range. But, it just needed a little time to pass for each side to realize that a deal could be made if each party bent a little.

I resolve about fifty percent of the cases I mediate either at the mediation or shortly after. The benefits of mediation are as follow:

  1. Mediation is not binding. So there’s no risk in attending it.
  2. Mediated cases settle much earlier than cases that go to trial.
  3. They are very cost effective.
  4. They are less stressful than a trial.
  5. You have a guaranteed result.

The drawbacks to mediation are few but none-the-less worth mentioning:

  1. Mediation can get costly.
  2. You must usually compromise a little bit. A carrier will want a little discount for settling the case much sooner than it has to. Remember, a trial will take longer.

Non-Binding Arbitration

Non-binding arbitration is, in my opinion, the least desirable form of
Alternative Dispute Resolution. It works similarly to a trial but is less formal. In this format, both parties agree on an arbitrator that acts as a judge and jury. A case is presented in a similar fashion to a trial but is done in a conference room with less formal rules. This makes it cost effective. You will not need to hire doctors and experts to testify as their reports are admissible at the hearing unlike in a trial where the experts have to testify at a cost of thousands of dollars a day.

The hearing is conducted much the same as a trial but in an expedited fashion. There are opening statements, presentation of witnesses and evidence and closing statements. The arbitrator decides the case by rendering a decision. Only If both parties agree to abide by the decision is it final. If either party balks at the decision, it is discarded. That is why I avoid this type of Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The benefit of this process, however, is that it can lead to a settlement because the arbitrator’s ruling, while not binding, is indicative of how the case may go at trial.

Binding Arbitration

Binding Arbitration is similar to Nonbinding Arbitration with the exception that the parties agree to abide by the arbitrator’s decision as final. While this may be risky, it is often a great way to resolve a case quickly and cost-effectively. Usually, I will entertain this option on lower valued cases where the cost of trying will outweigh the benefit of any recovery at trial.

On the other hand, I would never suggest this type of resolution for a larger case. I am not comfortable with giving an arbitrator total control over a case when millions of dollars are at stake.

In general, Alternative Dispute Resolution has become increasingly popular as a cost-effective and faster way to resolve disputes. I would always recommend at least, exploring it as a possible means of resolving your case.