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Dispute Resolution Procedures



ARBITRATION

 

Goal:

The goal of arbitration is to provide parties with a decision that is earlier, faster, less formal and less expensive than a trial. Arbitration involves submission of a dispute to a neutral arbitrator who renders a decision after hearing arguments and reviewing evidence. It is usually less rigidly structured and can be concluded more quickly than formal court proceedings.

 

Court Annexed Arbitration Program (CAAP) Process:

All tort (personal injury) cases filed in Circuit Court with a probable jury award value of $150,000 or less are automatically assigned to CAAP. A volunteer arbitrator presides at a hearing where the parties present evidence through documents, other exhibits, and witness testimony. The rules of evidence are somewhat relaxed in order to save time and money.

Arbitration in CAAP is non-binding, that is, parties may ask for a trial in court if they disagree with the arbitrator’s award (decision).  The award in a non-binding arbitration becomes the judgment in the case only if a Notice of Appeal and Request for Trial de Novo is not timely filed by a party.

The CAAP process includes important, trial-like procedures:

  • parties may use subpoenas (requiring witnesses to attend the hearing and/or present documents)
  • witnesses take an oath to tell the truth when they testify
  • the parties may conduct discovery before the hearing and, in some circumstances, use it later at trial to demonstrate inconsistencies in that witness’ opinion or memory

Arbitrators review the facts of the case against the applicable law and issue a non-binding award. Arbitrators may conduct mediations or settlement negotiations, with consent of all parties.

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Preserving the Right to Trial:

If all parties accept the arbitrator’s decision, the award becomes the final judgment of the court and may not be appealed to a higher court. However, either party may reject the non-binding award and request a trial before a judge or a jury, who will not know the result of the arbitration. (However, if the appealing party does not improve on the arbitration award by 30 percent or more, the trial court may impose penalties on that party.)

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The Neutral(s):

CAAP assigns an arbitrator from a panel of volunteer arbitrators after the defendant files an answer (response) to the plaintiff’s complaint, and after all other "pleadings" (documents) are filed with the court.

Arbitrators on the CAAP panel:

  • are attorneys who have been in practice for at least five years
  • have received arbitration training by the court and sworn in to have general power of a court

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Attendance:

Insurers of parties are strongly encouraged to attend the arbitration hearing. The following persons are required to attend:

  • clients with knowledge of the facts
  • the lead trial attorney for each party
  • any witnesses ordered to appear by subpoena

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Confidentiality:

No transcription or recording is made during the arbitration. If the award is appealed, the award is "sealed." The arbitration proceeding and award are not disclosed at a later trial. The sealed award may only be opened after the jury verdict or the judge makes a trial decision.

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Timing:

The arbitration hearing is generally held within nine months after filing the last pleading that responds to the complaint.

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Written Submissions:

The parties exchange and submit written pre-hearing statements to the arbitrator before the arbitration. These statements are not filed with the court.

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Appropriate Cases/Circumstances:

All tort cases with a probable jury verdict of $150,000 or less are automatically included in CAAP, unless the parties request to be exempt or removed from CAAP. Cases that do not fall into CAAP’s criteria may be included in CAAP if all parties make a written request.

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Cost:

There is no charge to the parties.

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