After a motor vehicle accident, or other type of injury claim, there is a process that is routinely followed before there is formal litigation. In other words, a person does not sue the very next day after he or she is injured as the result of a negligent party. Because of liability insurance, there is an opportunity to settle a claim short of a lawsuit.
Settlement negotiations do not need to be formal. Indeed, opposing counsel can call the other side at any time to make an offer to settle. Other times, a claim may be ripe for mediation.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. Due to congestion at the courts, and the long wait for a trial date (in central Los Angeles, the Superior Court will set a trial date two years from the date of filing), parties are using mediation, and other types of alternative dispute resolution. In fact, it is used frequently in motor vehicle accident cases. Plaintiff attorneys, defense attorneys, and insurance carriers see the value in using mediation before trial.
In a mediation, a neutral party (often a former judge) sits with the plaintiff and the defendant. The neutral is trained to facilitate a mutually beneficial result for both sides. Each mediator has a different style, but the basics remain the same. It is a voluntary process in which both parties agree to come together for the purpose of trying to reach a settlement. It is non-binding, and if one party does not want to settle at mediation, the claim can continue onto trial, or litigation, whatever stage of the case the claim may be in.
Costs of mediation are typically split between the two sides, but sometimes a persuasive plaintiff attorney can have the defense pay on behalf of the plaintiff. Anything said during the mediation is said pursuant to Evidence Code section 1152, meaning that it cannot be used against the party later on at trial, if there is not a settlement reached. Thus, each side can speak frankly and informally about the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases.
There are a number of different mediation methods available. Parties can pay and use a professional mediation service. Sometimes the local court will have a free mediator (volunteer who wants to help) available to the parties. Alternatively, parties can use an independent attorney who also happens to mediate cases. Generally speaking, mediation is provided by a range of different providers.
Mediation can be extremely helpful in allowing the insurance adjuster put a face on the claimant. Often it is difficult to understand the severity of an injury until you see and hear it from the injured party himself/herself! Mediation allows the plaintiff to tell his/her particular story as only the plaintiff can.
If you or someone you know has an injury claim, speak with an experienced attorney to determine whether mediation would be beneficial.