Alternative Dispute Resolution
Many disputes do not have to be resolved in an open, public court setting. “Alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) offers a variety of ways to resolve disputes in lieu of an official trial. ADR can be conducted in any manner to which the parties agree--it can be as casual as a discussion around a conference table, or as structured and discreet as a private court trial.
Advantages to solving conflicts through ADR include decreased litigation costs, and an expedited outcome. The most commonly used techniques are mediation and arbitration.
Mediation is a confidential, voluntary, non-binding process which uses a neutral third party to guide parties towards a mutually beneficial resolution of their disagreement. Resolutions are created to suit both parties, and may include an agreement not available via the court system.
The mediator does not impose his or her will or judgment on the parties, but helps them decide for themselves whether to settle, and on what terms. The mediator is a catalyst, helping parties reach agreement by identifying issues, exploring possible bases for agreement, and weighing the consequences of not settling.
Mediation works well in one-on-one disputes and in large, multi-group conflicts. It is effective in all types of civil matters, and may occur before or after the filing of a lawsuit. Although attorneys may be present during the mediation process, they are not essential to the process.
In arbitration, a neutral third party is chosen to hear both sides of the case, then resolves it by rendering a specific decision or award. Arbitration is a common way of solving disputes with insurance companies on specific claims.
An arbitration proceeding is similar to a regular court trial. The main difference is that arbitration can be either binding or non-binding, as agreed in advance by the disputing parties. If binding arbitration has been chosen, the decision or award is final.
In Washington counties with a population of 70,000 or more, the superior court may require mandatory arbitration of some civil actions, usually those in which the sole relief sought is a money judgment. Unlike voluntary arbitration, mandatory arbitration operates under the authority of the court system. By law, it can only be used to settle disputes of $35,000 or less.
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