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Study: in civil disputes, participants favor mediation

Both state and federal court systems here in Pennsylvania and across the nation have been hit hard by budget limitations caused by the poor economy. That doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that there are fewer disputes to be resolved -- only that the courts are jam-packed with cases. If there were no option but trial in those cases, the delays would be so long that there would essentially be no access to the courts, or justice.

Luckily, there are other options. Negotiated settlements presumably make up the majority of resolutions, but both mediation and arbitration have made great strides toward being considered effective, realistic methods of dispute resolution in civil disputes. In most cases, both mediation and arbitration are less expensive for parties than court litigation. People’s willingness to take part in alternative dispute resolution is a boon for the courts, as well, as it reserves only the most intractable disputes for judges and juries.

It looks like the trend toward alternative resolution of civil disputes will continue, at least in the case of mediation, according to a new study in the Iowa Law Review. An ADR professor from the UC Davis School of Law collected data from more than 400 people involved in litigation in Oregon, Utah and California, where state budget problems have cut more than $1 billion from the court system over the past six years.

In this first-ever multi-jurisdictional study of litigants’ perceptions about the various methods available to resolve civil disputes, the law professor sought to determine the relative attractiveness of each method, meaning negotiation, mediation, non-binding arbitration, binding arbitration, and trials before judges alone or with juries. The research sought to determine whether parties’ expressed preferences lined up with their actual choice of option, as well as how satisfied they were with that option and whether their satisfaction could be explained by known variables.

The data, collected shortly after each civil dispute was resolved, led to a reasonably clear list of which among the available methods the parties preferred most:

  • Negotiation between attorneys with clients present
  • Mediation
  • Trial before a judge
  • Negotiation between attorneys without clients present
  • Trial before a jury
  • Non-binding arbitration
  • Binding arbitration

As businesses and individuals struggle to resolve their commercial, contract, employment, construction and other civil disputes cost-effectively, research like this can provide crucial information. It can also help lawmakers and courts use the available resources as effectively as possible.

Source: Sacramento Business Journal, “Study: People prefer mediation in civil cases,” Kathy Robertson, Jan. 22, 2014

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