It takes considerable effort and preparation to make the mediation process work. One complaint I hear over and over is that some lawyers — and perhaps clients — just don’t get it. Based on my experience, some of what it takes to prepare for an effective mediation:
Perhaps the most important trait of a good advocate who also serves as a mediator is listening to what the other side has to say, along with carefully assessing the position counter to the clients. If this is done — and it should be if counsel’s representation in mediation is to meet professional standards — it allows for a full discussion and exchange of information before and during the mediation. The chances of reaching a settlement increase dramatically.
I am not alone. In an article by the Honorable James L. Cott, a Magistrate Judge in the USDC, Southern District of New York, “The Dos and Don’ts of Settlement Conferences,” in the Winter 2016 issue of Litigation, the Journal of the Section of Litigation of the ABA (Vol. 42, No. 2), the author provides a list describing what is required to be ready and effective at mediating:
Most of these points seem obvious because they are. So why would Judge Cott repeat them? My guess is because in his experience many lawyers representing clients in mediation are not doing their jobs correctly and are taking the mediation process too lightly.
From the plaintiff’s perspective, it is a waste of time and money to participate in mediation if the defense is not prepared. To effectively prepare, the plaintiff — well in advance of the mediation date — lays out the client’s case fully and candidly. Key exhibits and expert reports, not just conclusions and arguments without evidence to support them, included.
From the defense perspective, counsel needs to prepare the client representative well in advance of the mediation so any internal caucus can be conducted and the appropriate authority obtained. The defense also needs time to evaluate what experts might be involved, and obtain those reports. That has to be done well in advance of the mediation date. It is often a difficult task because the client representative or the insurance company claims handler is not local or is just too busy to devote the time necessary to participate in the preparation process.
Indeed, as I sit here today, we just confirmed a mediation to take place in a bit over two months from now. I started the preparation process today by scheduling a meeting with our firm’s associate who will assist me, the client, and another lawyer who is involved. We will outline what needs to be done, confirm our objectives for preparation, and assign our tasks.
There is another point to consider: One of the important items on my agenda as a plaintiff’s lawyer is to assess how serious the other side is about going through the mediation process so as to ensure a meaningful dialogue. I often have a heart-to-heart talk with defense counsel to make sure the timing is right, the proper people are involved and the commitment is there. Or I might ask the mediator to make sure this is the case. Frankly, in most cases I do this myself, but I will inform the mediator of my intentions beforehand to make sure it is okay to proceed. Sometimes the mediator will offer to do this, which I welcome if I think the mediator has the presence to do this effectively. I have on occasion asked permission to make this call because I feel strongly that I will be more effective because of a prior relationship with opposing counsel.
The first article, “Making Certain the Settlement You Intend is the Settlement You Get,” by Robert Hugh Ellis of Dykema Gossett PLLC in Detroit, stresses thinking through the terms of your settlement and making sure all aspects are clearly covered so the deal you expect is the deal you get. Indeed, a deal may not be a deal. He emphasizes two points:
The second article, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Mediation,” by Joel Levine, an experienced mediator, explains how to avoid self-inflicted wounds in mediations. These include:
Finally, Judge Cott repeats a quote from Abraham Lincoln, which is one of my favorites and which I have in my book on negotiations (see bio):
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, and expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will be business enough.”
Good meditating. Let me hear your views. Send them to email@example.com — Guy O. Kornblum, The Resolution Advocate
I often state that it is our recommendation that anyone owning an auto have primary liability (protection if you negligently hurt others) policy limits of $300,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. In addition, and an excess policy above that which provides at least $1 million in additional liability coverage and also if you are injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist protection.
As to the latter, if you are injured by the negligence of a third person with no insurance or insufficient coverage to compensate you or others in the car, then your policy kicks in and provides additional coverage. For example, if you have the total of $1.5 million I have recommended, and you are injured by a negligent driver, you have that additional sum which is available to pay for your injuries. If the negligent driver has $100,000 in coverage you have $1.4 million. Your UM/UIM protection pays if a) the other driver is negligent (i.e. you have added to his or her liability protection on your policy), and b) causes injury, (i.e. medical expenses, pain and suffering).
I also stress that in order to qualify for this coverage you must purchase liability insurance in the same amounts as the UM/UIM insurance that you want. Make sure you cover this with your agent when discussing your auto policy.
Let’s discuss how the matter proceeds if the UM/UIM claim is denied or challenged. In the case of UM/UIM claims, California law mandates that these claims be arbitrated, and that the decision of the arbitrator is final and cannot be appealed except in rare cases. See Insurance Code section 11580.02.
If you have gotten this far without a lawyer, I highly recommend your engage one to represent you. What will take place now needs an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process.
Arbitration is a formal proceeding in which the parties submit their dispute to a neutral (lawyer or retired judge usually), who has authority to make a decision, based on the evidence presented. The decision of the arbitrator is binding on the parties.
One thing that might happen before an arbitration is that the parties agree to mediate the UM/UIM claim. A mediation is a meeting of the parties supervised by a “neutral”, usually a retired judge or experienced lawyer, who oversees the negotiation of the claim. By law, what takes place in preparation for, during and after a mediation is confidential. Nothing that takes place during this process can be used by any party against the other, so the parties can candidly discuss their views of the case and settlement. It is a far less expensive and risky way of resolving any dispute, including UM/UIM claims.
Arbitration involves the presentation of the case to an arbitrator much like a trial. There is no jury and the arbitrator performs the same function as a judge, and also the jury as a finder of fact. An arbitration is conducted in a private office, not in a courthouse. While it is informal in the sense that all the formalities of a court trial are not followed, it is a formal proceeding in that it follows the usually format of a trial. The presentation by both sides follows the normal court trial process: briefs are filed, exhibits presented, opening statements are made, witnesses are called (lay and experts such as medical witnesses), and when all parties have rested (i.e. finished their evidentiary presentation), the lawyers argue the case and possibly file post trial briefs.
The arbitrator then decides the case usually taking some time to review the evidence and the briefs. The decision of the arbitrator is usually written and is called an “award.” Once it is served on the parties, it can be converted to a court judgment, which then is enforceable against the defendant insurance company if the award is not promptly paid. If the award is for money in favor if the insured (it can be a zero which means the insurance company owes nothing), it should be paid promptly. Since tje arbitrator’s decision is final, there is no appeal, so to this extent it is an expedited process. If the insurance company does not promptly pay the award, it may be in “bad faith” which means the insured has a second suit for this delay or failure to pay as a separate claim.
In addition to representing our clients, Mr. Kornblum also serves as an expert witness in insurance claims and legal malpractice claims, and as a mediator. For more information contact our San Francisco office at 415-440-7800.