Personal Injury Arbitrations in New Jersey
When you file a lawsuit in New Jersey, the result is usually one of two things: (1) it is settled or (2) it is resolved by way of a trial. When a case has been pending for some time and has not settled, in New Jersey, you will likely be scheduled for a mandatory arbitration hearing at the courthouse. Arbitration is one of the courts ways of trying to resolve and settle a case prior to a trial being scheduled. The court has a significant interest in settling as many cases as possible without the need for a trial. This is because trials take time and cost money. Arbitration is a cost effective way of trying to settle a case and avoid a trial.
What will happen at the arbitration? An arbitration is a hearing held at the courthouse. The plaintiff or person filing the claim is present along with their attorney and provides testimony concerning how the incident happened and the resulting damages and injuries. The Defendant will be present with their attorney and explain their side of the story. Additionally the attorneys for both sides will provide all the relevant medical records and legal documents so they can be reviewed. Any relevant witnesses are also allowed to testify if necessary. This hearing will be conducted in front of an arbitrator selected by the court. The arbitrator is not a judge or court personnel. Rather it is a retired judge or an experienced attorney who handles similar legal cases in their professional practice. The arbitrator is a neutral party who will hear the testimony, review the relevant documents and then provide an arbitration award or decision in the presence of the parties at the hearing. The decision of the arbitrator is based on what the arbitrator believes a jury would award if the case was presented at a trial. This entire process is conducted and concluded in a relatively short period of time, normally an hour or less. This is in contrast to a trial which likely will take several full days at a minimum.
What is the end result of an arbitration? Once the award is rendered by the arbitrator, both sides have the opportunity to consider its ramifications and determine whether it is beneficial to their interests or not. The award of the arbitrator is not binding on any party. This means that it does not need to be accepted if any party disagrees with the decision or feels it is not an accurate reflection of the value of the case. Each side has 30 days from the arbitration date to make a decision as to whether they will accept or reject the award. If the award is not acceptable by any party they can file an appeal with the court for a $200.00 fee and request the case be scheduled for a trial. This is called a request for trial denovo. If both sides believe the award is fair and acceptable then no appeals are filed and the case is then considered legally settled for the award made by the arbitrator.
In actual practice, unfortunately, the majority of arbitration awards are appealed by one party or another and therefore its purpose although good is not always served. Nonetheless it is a required process currently utilized in the state and therefore an understanding of the process is helpful to all potential parties to personal injuries lawsuits in New Jersey. If you have questions regarding the arbirtation process, feel free to contact me here in my firm's Marlton, New Jersey office to discuss this matter in more detail.