Mediation is one potential step in a car accident lawsuit. Not every case needs mediation, but it can be an important step toward getting you damages quickly without the need for an expensive trial in open court.
During mediation, both sides will get together with their attorneys and a neutral mediator to discuss terms and try to reach a settlement. At no point can anyone – including your lawyer or the judge – force you to agree to terms, and you can always walk away and go to trial instead. During mediation, both sides will work to agree on fault, agree on damages, and agree on any other stipulations to be made during the settlement (e.g., whether it will be confidential).
For a free review of your injury case, call the Maryland car accident lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras today at (410) 694-7291.
What is Mediation in Maryland, and How is it Different from Arbitration or Settlement?
When you have a case on your hands, you can “bring” the case or “file a claim” in a few different ways. With car accident cases, you will usually start by filing a car insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance, but it might not result in an offer that pays you enough. You can then file a lawsuit in court, but it might take a long time to get to trial and get the damages you need. Other “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) steps in between are something our Baltimore car accident lawyers can help with.
Mediation, arbitration, and settlement are all distinct things, but each of them sits in this zone of “alternative dispute resolution” because they are all alternatives to a trial in court.
What is Settlement?
A settlement is an agreement (i.e., a contract) to end a case without going to trial by having one party pay the other damages. A settlement is essentially the end of a case, and most settlement agreements will include terms that say you will not pursue additional damages – and even if they don’t, a few legal principles usually stop the case from progressing again after a settlement.
You can settle by accepting an insurance claim, settling after meetings between the parties, or by going to mediation and signing a settlement agreement. Settlement can, in fact, happen at any stage of the case, whether before or after you’ve filed in court – and sometimes even after the jury renders a verdict.
In most cases, a settlement is not going to include an admission of fault. Instead, parties usually settle specifically so that there is no public record of them being at fault so as not to draw criticism or additional lawsuits. Some settlements are even confidential so that the amount and terms are not released to the public.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary process where the plaintiff and defendant sit down together with a neutral “mediator” to try to settle the case. Their lawyers will be present to present evidence and arguments to the mediator and the other side’s attorneys in the hopes that they can find some middle ground and reach a resolution to the case that satisfies both sides.
Mediation can be requested by a judge – or even ordered – but it is not required or appropriate in every case. If both sides are at extreme odds, then there might be no point in having them sit down together, and the only way the case is going to be resolved is through trial. In other cases, mediation is inappropriate because the plaintiff’s goal in bringing the lawsuit is to have their day in court and show the public the defendant’s actions, so going to a private meeting to try to settle would counteract those goals.
Any findings or agreements made during mediation are non-binding unless and until the parties actually sign a settlement agreement. If they reach a tentative agreement through mediation, they can still walk away or disagree until the point that they actually sign on the dotted line. Parties can also walk away from mediation if they find it is taking too long or isn’t getting them what they want because there is always the opportunity to go to trial instead.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is often lumped together with mediation because they are both forms of ADR. While mediation is essentially a pre-trial step to try to reach a settlement, arbitration is an alternative to trial.
Generally, parties only go to arbitration when they have an agreement that requires them to, though sometimes they will agree to go to arbitration instead of court. This commonly happens in situations where you have a contract with a big business – such as your insurance policy or a cellphone contract – that requires you to forfeit your right to trial in favor of arbitration. This usually does not come up in car accident claims.
In arbitration, instead of taking the case before a judge and jury, you take the case to an arbitrator. That can be a single individual – usually a lawyer, former judge, or industry expert – or a panel of arbitrators. When parties go to arbitration, they form an agreement that the results will be binding. That means that unlike in mediation, the findings and results will be binding as if from a trial court.
What Does Mediation Look Like in Maryland Car Accident Cases?
Mediation is essentially a meeting, usually in a conference room at a neutral site or in the courthouse. The mediator will run the mediation and set the processes, usually accepting evidence from both sides, though it is a lot more informal than a trial or a court hearing.
Generally, you will be expected to show up for the whole time with your lawyer and dress professionally as if going to court. Contrast this with a settlement meeting where your lawyer might attend without you and report offers back to you.
If at any point during mediation, you decide you want to leave the negotiating table, you can. If negotiations are not going well, we can walk and try to resume negotiations toward a settlement without a mediator or, if we think that is the best option, go to trial instead.
Call Our Maryland Car Accident Lawyers Today at Rice, Murtha & Psoras
For a free case review, call the Bel Air, MD car accident attorneys at Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291.