When you’re preparing your case, you may ask yourself if going to court is really necessary. Courtrooms can be intimidating, and the prospect of facing a crack legal team can be nerve wracking. While your best option is to speak with your attorney about your options before making a decision, there are alternatives you can pursue if you want to avoid a court date if both parties are willing.
If you’re attempting to avoid a legal battle, mediation can be an effective means to settle a dispute, especially if you and your opposing party are on relatively good terms. During the process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, will facilitate a discussion between you, any party or parties involved in the dispute, as well as all parties’ lawyers. The mediator will not make legal decisions during the discussion; instead, they will assist in creating a structure and timetable to facilitate the discussion that will ideally lead to an agreement. Mediation comes with several benefits:
- Informality: If you’re intimidated by an official court setting, the more relaxed setting of a mediation meeting may be exactly what you’re looking for. There are no strict rules of procedure, and it can deal with a variety of issues and multiple parties at the same time.
- Speed: It can take years for a case to make it all the way to trial, while a mediation session can be finished in under a week if the circumstances allow it.
- The Price Tag: Mediation sessions are often available at low prices. Taking a case to court can quickly become expensive, and even if the mediation only resolves part of the issue, it could bring down the cost of litigation down the road.
- Maintaining Relationships: Especially in cases where a continued relationship is expected or required after the settlement, a mediation session may help to ease tensions. A court trial has the chance of increasing, or even fostering hostility between both parties, while mediation sessions can help facilitate easing tensions in hopes of a better future.
- Privacy: Unless the court records are sealed after the trial, the details are available to the public. This is not the case with mediation. All records remain private, so if it’s a sensitive issue, you may want to avoid the spotlight a court can put on your life.
- It’s Your Decision: The parties who asked for the mediation session are the ones with the power to resolve the issue. There is no judge who will come down with a final judgement; rather, the parties involved need to make the choice to come to an agreement.
Another alternative to settling a legal dispute in the courtroom is through arbitration. Through this process, the parties involved refer their disputes to an arbitrator who then listens to the parties’ arguments, reviews the evidence, and makes a decision. Arbitration can have the same benefits regarding speed, cost, privacy and formality that mediation does. However, arbitration is different because the arbitrator(s) are actually making a decision rather than facilitating a settlement. There are multiple forms of arbitration to consider:
- Mandatory vs. Voluntary: This aspect is fairly self-explanatory. In mandatory arbitration, the parties are required by law or contract to participate in the arbitration and give up their right to sue in court. In voluntary arbitration, the disputing parties agree to submit their dispute to an arbitrator once the need arises.
- Binding vs. Nonbinding: Also fairly self-explanatory, this area refers to the arbitrator’s decision. In binding cases, the final decision cannot be reviewed or overturned except in very limited extreme situations, while a nonbinding decision can be treated more as an assessment of the situation and the parties maintain their right to trial or settlement. Non-binding arbitrations are often used to judge the merits of a potential lawsuit in order to create the groundwork for a settlement. If all parties involve agree to the decision, a nonbinding decision can still become binding.
- Court Ordered - in both New Jersey State and Federal Courts, the courts may require a hybrid of binding/non-binding arbitrations. In those circumstances, the arbitration required by the Court and will be binding unless one of parties rejects the arbitration award formally and pays a fee to the court.
Some arbitration clauses require that the arbitrator is hired through an arbitration agency, but in some cases the parties may be allowed to hire a qualified independent arbitrator or lawyer.
When Does Going to Court Make The Most Sense?
Not all disputes can be settled in a mediation or arbitration setting. If you are unable to reach a settlement but wish to continue with your case, it will be necessary for the court to order a trial date. You may seek to skip an attempt at mediation altogether if settlement or other goals cannot be reasonably reached by the process.
Whether you’ve decided to attempt mediation or if you’ve chosen to go to court, it’s important to have the support you need. Here at Levinson Axelrod, our New Jersey personal injury attorneys have been fighting for the rights of our clients for over 75 years. Contact us today for your free consultation, or call us at (732) 440-3089.