There are processes to settle personal injury disputes and reach resolution outside of the traditional court system. Arbitration is a popular form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which parties (both sides of a case or disagreement) have an opportunity to be heard by a neutral third party called an arbitrator.
Arbitration has stages similar to a trial. The participants still write out their claims and defenses and present their evidence. An arbitrator or panel of arbitrators decides the case and issues a final decision or award. These “arbitration awards” can be legally binding and can be enforced by traditional courts.
Arbitration is different from trial in a number of ways. Parties might want to arbitrate to take advantage of some these differences:
However, some parties may want to go to traditional court because of any of the following potential downsides to arbitration:
A personal injury lawyer specializing in arbitration can help guide you through the confusing process and can help you determine the best route to pursue your claim.
Arbitration can be either voluntary or required. For the reasons listed above, parties might voluntarily agree to arbitrate. It can also be required because it is agreed to as a part of a contract. To keep costs low, businesses often include arbitration clauses in contracts with customers and consumers. If you sign a valid contract that includes an arbitration clause or if you agree to arbitrate a conflict, you can be forced to arbitrate.
Parties can be forced into arbitration unknowingly because arbitration clauses are typically found in the fine print of a contract. For example, Amtrak has a forced arbitration policy. When a passenger buys a train ticket, they are agreeing to arbitrate any claim against Amtrak that is covered under the agreement. If a passenger is injured for any covered reason, even a train wreck, they cannot pursue their personal injury claim in a traditional court.
Arbitration can be either binding or nonbinding. Binding arbitration is more common and is normally negotiated in a contract. In binding arbitration, there is a very narrow right to review and appeal. A court will not often overturn or “vacate” binding arbitration awards because it gives deference to the decision of the arbitrator. Arbitration laws vary by state, but many states follow the Uniform Arbitration Act. Washington, D.C., follows the District of Columbia Revised Uniform Arbitration Act (DCRUAA). Under DC law, binding arbitration clauses are enforceable and arbitration is actually the preferred method of dispute resolution because courts consider agreements to arbitrate to be contracts and courts enforce valid contracts.
On the other hand, non-binding arbitration can be decided ahead of time and gives the parties the opportunity to be heard, but the decision is merely advisory and is not binding on the parties. The parties can then decide whether to take the arbitration award to the courts to be enforced.
A binding arbitration clause will certainly affect the process used to settle your claim, which affects important strategic aspects of your claim such as whether you have a right to a jury and your ability to appeal. If you think that you may have signed a contract requiring arbitration or if you are considering whether to agree to voluntary arbitration, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. A lawyer can evaluate the pros and cons of the different dispute resolution methods and can advise you on whether arbitration is appropriate for your situation. Regan Zambri Long, PLLC, has a team that can help you navigate the process and can help you understand which legal options will be best for you.