What is Alternative Dispute Resolution in Civil Lawsuits?

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Due to the lengthy process that is often seen when a legal case goes to trial, it’s common to see many cases undergo what is known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). In appearances on Fox 17 “Know the Law,” Grand Rapids attorney, Tom Sinas, provides an overview of alternative dispute resolution in civil cases and outlines the basic forms of ADR.

What is alternative dispute resolution?

Tom practices in personal injury cases, which fall under the umbrella of civil law. While the most common way to solve a civil case is through a trial, the legal system has experienced a significant rise in alternative dispute resolution in civil cases over the years, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

At its core, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is simply a way of solving your case by some means other than going to trial, including a jury trial or a bench trial, which is a trial conducted by a judge.

What types of alternative dispute resolution are available in Michigan?

In Michigan, three common types of alternative dispute resolution are available in civil cases:

  • Mediation – Mediation is the general concept in which both parties get together in a confidential process and choose a neutral third party to act as a mediator. The third party’s job is to see whether or not they can bring the two opposing parties together toward a voluntary settlement. Mediation is the most voluntary and very common form of ADR. The parties in mediation may participate in the mediation process and settle the case, the decisions made in mediation are entirely voluntary.
  • Case Evaluation – This process generally involves a panel of three lawyers convening and reviewing both sides of a case before them. This panel reviews written materials, oral arguments, and then the panel attempts to reach a unanimous decision about the value of the case. Each side then has the opportunity to either accept or reject that panel’s decision. Case evaluation is seen as somewhat binding because there can be negative consequences for the party who does not accept the panel’s decision. This party can actually be forced to pay the other side’s lawyer fees. So, while it’s not technically binding, case evaluation has consequences. In Michigan, following a court rules revision issued by the Michigan Supreme Court, as of January 1st, 2022, case evaluation is no longer mandatory in personal injury cases, and whoever chooses to go to case evaluation, won’t have the loser pays sanctions levied against them.
  • Arbitration – While arbitration may take on many different forms, its distinguishing characteristic is that someone else (either another person or a group) makes a decision about the case outside the courtroom and that decision is binding upon everyone involved. Generally, arbitration is binding. You will find this type of binding alternative dispute resolution in credit card contracts and home mortgages, just to name a few.

How new legislation has made changes to arbitration regarding sexual assault cases?

In February of 2022, the US House of Representatives and US Senate passed H.R. 4445, entitled the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.” This bill specifically targets cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill is in response to what has recently come to light, as told by Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, that many people unknowingly have mandatory and binding arbitration clauses in their employment contracts. Therefore, the legislation aims to make arbitration under those circumstances illegal.