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What alternatives are available instead of filing a lawsuit? What is ADR?

UPDATED: August 7, 2012

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There are several different alternatives to filing a lawsuit, depending on exactly what your legal situation is. Many of these alternatives are part of a system called alternative dispute resolution or ADR. Use of the alternative dispute resolution system has become increasingly popular, since it can be less expensive and quicker than going through a whole court proceeding. In fact, in some cases, a court will require you to try the ADR system before they will even hear the case. In still other cases, you may be required by contract to use the ADR system.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Options

So, what exactly are your options under the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system? It is going to depend on exactly what type of suit or court preceding you are trying to avoid, but in general, your options are going to be:

  • Negotiation
  • Mediation
  • Arbitration

Negotiation involves trying to come to some type of deal on an issue without involving the courts. Assume, for example, you get into a car accident that is caused by someone else and you are thinking of suing the person. Before you do, his insurance company may offer you a settlement (an out of court cash payment in exchange for which you will need to sign a liability release and give up all rights to sue). You can engage in negotiation with the insurer, and if you come to a deal, can settle out of court. Negotiation is optional, of course, and if you don't come to a deal, you can walk away and sue at any time.

Mediation sort of takes negotiation to the next level. Here, instead of just negotiating with the potential defendant, or his insurer, a third party mediator gets involved in order to help you negotiate. The mediator isn't going to make any binding decisions; s/he just facilitates open and calm communication between opposing parties to try to come up with a deal. Mediation is usually voluntary, and the parties can walk away at any time; however, some courts may require that people at least try mediation for certain kinds of cases before the court will hear the dispute.

Arbitration is a third alternative to filing suit. Unlike mediation or negotiation, the arbitrator is going to make a decision about the case and it is going to be binding. Essentially, he's like a judge, but an independent judge who doesn't have the same legal authority as a standard judge to do things like hold you in contempt of court. Arbitration is a common method of resolving certain disputes; for example, many contracts contain an arbitration clause requiring some disputes to be submitted to arbitration instead of litigation.

Getting Help with ADR

If you are considering any of these alternative resolution methods, you'll want a lawyer's advice on whether that method is right for you or if you should be filing a lawsuit instead.

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