Last time, we briefly addressed the enforceability of arbitration awards. To recap: arbitration awards are legally binding and enforceable once they are confirmed by the court, but they may be modified, corrected or vacated after confirmation, depending on the circumstances of the case. Those who have been involved in an arbitration proceeding and who feel the outcome was not proper, for one reason or another, should work with an experienced attorney to have the matter properly addressed.
Mediation agreements are generally treated in court as any contract would be, and their enforcement is governed by the principles of contract law. When a mediation agreement is challenged, therefore, the first question will be whether the agreement constitutes a valid contract. The issue here is whether all the elements of a contract are present. If so, there is a valid contract. Even if the contract is valid, though, there may be other issues that arise which could impact enforcement.
Some of the issues that can potentially arise with mediation agreements are:
- Did both parties have the capacity to enter into the agreement?
- Was either party subject to undue influence, duress, or misrepresentation?
- Are there any unconscionable terms in the agreement?
- Were both parties mistakes regarding a basic assumption on which the agreement was based?
While effective mediation is likely to thoroughly address these potential problems, it cannot be assumed in every case that a mediation agreement will have no such issues. Working with an experienced and reputable mediator will go a long way toward eliminating potential problems with enforcement later on, if the issue arises.