This column first appeared in the Waco Tribune.
Nice guys finish last. Revenge is sweet. Paybacks are a real, well, you know. If you’ve ever found yourself involved in a lawsuit, those expressions may hit a little too close to home.
When it comes to legal disputes, civility doesn’t always win the day. Legal battles can often turn contentious, and many people involved in long, costly lawsuits likely find themselves wishing the dispute never happened.
And while everyone deserves justice and, as the saying goes, “their day in court,” not every dispute must see the inside of a courtroom. In fact, in many disputes, there’s a better path forward to settle differences and make affected parties whole.
Arbitration is a voluntary, out-of-court method for dispute resolution, one where both sides makes their case to a neutral, independent arbitrator whom they mutually select. It’s typically a faster, simpler, fair and less expensive alternative to litigation.
Many arbitrators are retired judges, and many have training and expertise specific to the types of disputes they handle. An arbitrator’s decision is called an “award.” Awards are made in writing and are generally final and binding on the disputing parties. The awards can bestow the same type of damages a claimant could seek in court.
Because arbitrators reach decisions promptly after disputing parties provide their facts and arguments, the parties can get decisions more quickly and efficiently than in court.
The only ones arbitration isn’t good for are personal-injury lawyers. The more disputes resolved through arbitration or other alternative dispute options, the fewer lawsuits there are and the less personal-injury lawyers make in fees.
So it should come as no surprise that some personal-injury lawyers oppose arbitration as an alternative to a full-blown trial. It’s a classic case of some lawyers wanting to use our courts for greed, not justice.
America’s litigation system already costs families and small businesses thousands per year on average, and if some personal injury lawyers get their way, it could end up costing even more. That’s because these lawyers want to take away our access to arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution options.
What are they fighting against? They’re waging war on consumers, taxpayers and many businesses, quite frankly.
According to the American Arbitration Association, arbitrations can reach a final decision on average a full year faster than it takes for court cases to reach a final judgment. Another study found the median length of time from the filing of an arbitration demand to the final award in domestic, commercial cases was just less than eight months. By contrast, the typical length of time from filing a lawsuit through trial of civil cases can be three years or more.
And the fact is, arbitration is a process supported by our courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has on multiple occasions endorsed arbitration as being effective and a fair alternative dispute resolution process.
Arbitration is pro-consumer, too. Outcomes for consumers through arbitration are similar to those reached through the court system. According to the National Arbitration Forum, a consumer who would have won a case in court or received a favorable settlement is at least as likely to achieve the same result in arbitration. So lawsuit reform organizations like ours want to educate and empower consumers and small businesses about the benefits of arbitration.
Smart legal consumers know our courts should be used for justice, not greed. And, oftentimes, justice can be found just as easily away from a courtroom and around a table where all parties can mutually agree to settle their differences with the guidance from a well-trained, specialized judge arbitrator.
Meaux is a board member of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse.