What is Arbitration?

Metzger Wickersham

A common method for resolving cases in personal injury litigation is via arbitration. Arbitration can sometimes get a bad reputation in the legal setting, but it often can be an effective way to end cases with less time and costs involved than a standard jury trial.

Arbitration is typically a private process where disputing parties agree that one attorney or a panel of attorneys can make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments. Sometimes, the parties agree on a sole arbitrator or on the make-up of the panel of arbitrators. Other times, panels of attorneys are appointed by the court to serve as arbitrators. Most counties in Pennsylvania have specific rules governing the arbitration process.

The arbitration process is similar to a jury trial but usually in a more condensed format. For example, the parties typically forgo opening statements and the medical evidence is usually presented via expert reports and the use of medical records. This is different than most jury trials where medical evidence is presented via actual testimony from an expert physician. This is one way that costs are typically less for an arbitration.

The disputing parties are still able to testify regarding the facts and present evidence to the arbitrator. Compared to traditional trials, arbitration can usually be completed more quickly and is less formal. The rules of evidence and procedure still apply but typically are relaxed in the arbitration setting to allow things to move in an efficient manner.

Arbitration can be binding or non-binding. If the arbitration is “binding,” the parties agree the arbitration decision is final and not appealable except under the most narrow grounds. If the arbitration is “non-binding,” the decision is merely advisory and can be appealed by either party. Sometimes a non-binding arbitration is desirable to the parties in that it allows the parties to get an understanding of how a third party would decide the case. This can often lead to more open settlement negotiations between the parties.

Arbitration is not the right dispute resolution method in every case, but can often be a valuable tool to be used during litigation.