What is Alternative Dispute Resolution in Civil Lawsuits?

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At the one-year mark of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Grand Rapids attorney, Tom Sinas, described on a Fox 17 “Know the Law” segment one aspect of the legal system to what is known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Due to the lengthy postponement of jury trials as a result of the pandemic, more civil litigants than ever have had to seek alternative dispute resolution in their cases. Tom 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. The legal system has experienced a significant rise in alternative dispute resolution in civil cases over the years, and 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.
  • Case Evaluation – This process generally involves a panel of three lawyers convening and reviewing both sides of the case before them. This panel reviews written materials, oral arguments, and then the panel attempts to reach a unanimous decision about what the case should resolve for. Each side then has the opportunity to either accept or reject that panel’s decision.
  • 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.

What forms of ADR are binding and which are not?

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. 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. Mediation is the most voluntary. The parties in mediation may participate in the mediation process and settle the case, the decisions made in mediation are entirely voluntary.