What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?
Civil litigation can be costly to all parties involved, both in terms of actual expenses and in terms of the time it takes to prepare and litigate a case. The parties, however, are not the only ones who bear the costs involved in litigation. The court system also expends a considerable amount of money every time a case goes to jury trial – costs that are ultimately paid for by the taxpayers. Everyone involved in litigation, therefore, has a financial incentive to resolve a civil dispute before it reaches the jury trial stage. Alternative dispute resolution attempts to do just that.
Alternative Dispute Resolution refers to any method of resolving a case outside of the courtroom. ADR does not refer to one specific method but a collection of methods that are all used to help the parties reach a resolution without the need for trial. Some courts have made ADR mandatory in civil lawsuits, while others offer ADR as an option, but do not mandate that the parties try ADR. Even in jurisdictions where ADR is mandatory, you do not give up your right to trial. If you are not happy with the decision or resolution received through ADR, you always have the right to continue to trial unless you contractually agreed to resolve a dispute using ADR. Contracts often include a clause requiring the parties to submit to binding ADR should a dispute arise.
There are several types of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods that are commonly used in Pennsylvania courts, including:
- Mediation – mediation is a confidential, non-binding process in which a neutral third party – usually an attorney – is chosen by the parties to help facilitate a mutually acceptable resolution. A mediator does not evaluate the cases presented by the parties. Instead, a mediator helps facilitate negotiations by working with both sides to gain a better understanding of what is important to each party and what they are willing to compromise on in order to reach a resolution.
- Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) – with ENE, the litigants essentially give a “mini” presentation of their case to date, including important pieces of evidences, to a neutral evaluator (an attorney) who has expertise in the area of the law/subject matter being litigated. The evaluator then provides them with a non-binding evaluation of their case and offers settlement assistance if the parties are amenable to settlement.
- Arbitration – arbitration can be binding or non-binding. When used as an alternative dispute resolution method, it is non-binding and involves a neutral arbitrator or a panel of three arbitrators who will listen to the evidence and arguments of both sides and provide a non-binding judgment. With arbitration, testimony is actually taken under oath just as in a real trial. Effectively, arbitration is sort of a preview of trial without a binding verdict.
If you have additional questions about Alternative Dispute Resolution, or need advice or guidance regarding a civil law matter, contact the experienced civil law attorneys at Curley & Rothman, LLC by calling 610-834-8819 today to schedule your consultation.