Civil arbitration, formerly known as mandatory arbitration, is an efficient and cost-effective option of resolving civil claims in most of Washington State if your claim is less than $100,000. Instead of waiting for a jury trial date or being put on stand-by, the parties receive a set date and time that rarely changes. Not only does this save time and money, but it saves a lot of stress!
The parties submit a Prehearing Statement of Proof to the arbitrator no later than two weeks before the hearing. These documents are key evidence of liability and damages. They include things such as medical records, bills, doctor’s opinions, photographs, police reports, and wage loss information. Live lay witnesses may also be called to testify during the arbitration on your behalf. The arbitrator reviews the Prehearing Statement prior to the hearing, which usually takes place in the arbitrator’s conference room. These days, due to COVID, many arbitrations are conducted through videoconference.
The atmosphere of an arbitration is more relaxed than a jury trial and the rules of evidence are more loose. The time it takes to arbitrate a case is much shorter than the time it takes to present a case to a jury. Usually, the plaintiff and perhaps one or two lay witnesses testify, but the experts, including the plaintiff’s treatment providers, often do not testify live at the hearing. Their opinions are usually well documented in the chart notes or reports within the medical files already submitted. A case that might take two to three days to try in front of a jury is often arbitrated in three to four hours. Arbitration was created to reduce congestion in the court system and provide parties with a more efficient and cost-effective way to resolve their disputes. It can also be a good option for cases that don’t settle at mediation.
How Does an Arbitrator get Selected?
The selection of the arbitrator is done by the County’s Superior Court office. Each party gets a list of arbitrators from the Superior Court. In a two-party case, there would be five names of potential arbitrators on the list. Each side gets to circle two and strike two arbitrators. The court’s arbitration department then notifies the arbitrator of their appointment and the arbitrator works with the parties to set a date for the hearing. In advance of the hearing, the parties usually engage in discovery including records stipulations, depositions, and sometimes written interrogatories.
In Washington, an arbitrator must be a licensed attorney with at least 5 years practicing law or another individual with special training (RCW 11.96A.310).
How long does it take for an Arbitrator to make a decision
After the hearing, the arbitrator provides a written decision or award within 14 days of the hearing. The award is filed with the court. At that point, either party may appeal the award within 20 days. An appeal from Civil Arbitration is called a “de novo” appeal. That means that the jury is not told about the arbitration award and the case is tried as if no arbitration had occurred. If no appeal is filed, the award may then be reduced to a judgment. There is a major disincentive for a party to appeal. If a party appeals and does not improve their position at trial, the “prevailing party” gets the verdict plus actual fees and costs from the time of the appeal. This can be expensive for the losing side.
After an arbitration award, most carriers will pay the award. This is especially true in Franklin County. Others may appeal or continue to negotiate before the appeal deadline. This is more common in Benton County. Our response will depend on the facts of your specific case. Many cases are resolved through the mandatory arbitration process. It is usually much quicker and much less expensive than the jury route.