Most personal injury claims are settled outside of court, often before a trial even begins. Resolving a case through some type of alternative dispute resolution saves time and money. It also reduces the burden on the court system and keeps details of the case private.
Our personal injury lawyers at Joye Law Firm often negotiate insurance settlements on behalf of clients. In addition to negotiations, the methods of dispute resolution commonly used in car accident cases and other personal injury claims are arbitration and mediation.
Typically, if negotiations toward a settlement in a personal injury case do not work out, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit asking the court to order the defendant to pay compensation. In South Carolina, a state Supreme Court ruling requires most civil matters to go through mediation first.
In mediation, a specially trained mediator helps the parties try to resolve their dispute. The parties make the decisions, not the mediator. They can either settle the matter in mediation or go forward with a lawsuit or arbitration.
How Does Arbitration Work?
In arbitration, a specially trained person – an arbitrator – or a panel of arbitrators hears the evidence presented by each side in the dispute and then makes a decision. The arbitrator’s decision can be binding or nonbinding. If it is binding, the arbitrator’s decision becomes part of a contract between the parties.
Arbitrators are legally known as neutral parties because they are impartial. Arbitration is also confidential in most cases.
Each side in an arbitration hearing may present witnesses, who must swear their testimony is true. Lawyers for each side in the dispute may question witnesses and introduce evidence. The arbitrator can question witnesses, as well.
Arbitration is more formal than mediation but less formal than a court of law. Any type of conflict can be settled through arbitration, such as business matters, neighborhood disputes, or family issues.
Some business contracts have mandatory arbitration clauses. However, South Carolina law upholding the validity of arbitration agreements as means to settle civil disputes, exempts personal injury claims (Section 15-48-10(4)).
In a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling, the Court said non-signatories to insurance policies could not be forced into arbitration to settle claims. For example, if your car was damaged in a car accident someone else caused, you would seek compensation through their auto liability insurance. If that policy contained a mandatory arbitration clause, you would not be bound to use arbitration because you were not a signatory to that contract. If you had an auto insurance policy of your own that had an arbitration clause, you would likely be bound by the terms of the policy.
Sometimes, the parties in a dispute go through voluntary, nonbinding arbitration to test the strengths of a potential lawsuit, with the aim of forging a settlement. A personal injury attorney at Joye Law Firm can review the details of your accident and help you understand whether resolving the matter will involve arbitration.
Pros and Cons of Arbitration
There are potential advantages and disadvantages to weigh to arbitration. Among the advantages:
- Privacy – Arbitration decisions usually remain confidential, whereas a court case is part of the public record.
- Expedience – Court dockets are crowded, and it may take more than a year for a personal injury lawsuit to be heard. Arbitration can take place more quickly. The arbitrator may have more flexibility for scheduling the hearing around your needs than the courts will.
- More casual setting – Arbitration does not adhere to the strict rules of civil procedure used by the courts. This tends to make hearings less stressful.
- Less hostility – Because the proceedings are less formal, an arbitrator usually encourages each party to participate fully and may even consult both sides for help structuring a resolution. This encourages the parties to work together.
- Lawsuit or settlement still an option – By choosing nonbinding arbitration, you preserve the option to accept the arbitrator’s decision or to reject it and proceed to court.
Some of the drawbacks of arbitration include:
- Questionable objectivity – The insurance company will likely insist upon an arbitrator of its choice, whom you can bet is often sympathetic to insurers. If you have an experienced attorney representing you, the attorney will know professional arbitrators in the state and be able to help you negotiate who will hear your case.
- Rising costs –Despite some saying arbitration is cheaper than filing a lawsuit, an arbitrator must be paid, and their fees are continually increasing. This makes the affordability of arbitration an issue for some people.
Our attorneys at Joye Law know what it takes to present a strong case to the arbitrator. Before, during, and after arbitration, we would continue to seek opportunities to settle your case if the insurer made a reasonable offer to you. The trial run of a case in arbitration can compel either side to agree to settle.
Contact Our Personal Injury Lawyers Today
Our South Carolina personal injury attorneys at Joye Law Firm can help you through the complicated aftermath of a serious accidental injury. We have a long track record of obtaining monetary awards for our clients. While every case stands on its own and previous cases don’t guarantee future results, our winning record does illustrate our experience handling personal injury cases and ability to successfully resolve them without going to court.
Contact Joye Law Firm today at 888-324-3100 or online for a free consultation about your accident and your legal options, including voluntary arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.