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Florida Arbitration or Mediation: Which is Best for You?

If you’re involved in a legal dispute with another person, company, government body, or other entity, you may be dreading the idea of going to court to resolve the matter. In a worst case scenario, it’s true that litigation is time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. However, you may not be aware of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) laws in Florida, which provide ways to sort out your legal issues with no or limited court involvement. You should consult with an ADR lawyer about which is best for your situation, but it’s useful to learn a bit about the basics.

Mediation Defined

This type of ADR is a way for people involved in a legal dispute to talk about their issues before a neutral party, the mediator. This person cannot make a determination of right or wrong, or tell you how to resolve your matter; however, he or she will encourage open communication so that you can discuss and compromise on solutions.

  • The Pros: You might consider mediation to resolve your legal dispute because:
    • You make the decisions regarding the issues through compromise with the other party; the mediator does not issue a determination.
    • What you say during the proceedings is confidential.
    • A mediation order is binding and enforceable if the other party breaches the agreement.
    • Since mediation is not a court trial, costs and time are reduced.
  • The Cons: Mediation may not be for you if the dispute is highly emotional or contentious, or if there has been a history of domestic violence in the matter.

Arbitration Defined

Under this approach to ADR, the parties agree to resolve their dispute out of court by an arbitrator in a proceeding that’s similar to a trial. Unlike a mediator, an arbitrator does issue a decision in the matter after hearing both sides present their respective sides of the story on the dispute. Florida law allows for both non-binding arbitration, where you can ask for a court trial if you’re not happy with the findings of the arbitrator; voluntary binding arbitration is also an option, where the decision is final and can only be contested on appeal subject to limitations.

  • The Pros: Arbitration may be a wise option for you because:
    • It avoids the expense and time involved with a full trial.
    • The proceeding often facilitates settlement because you’ll see the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s case.
    • While similar to a trial, arbitration proceedings are more relaxed and allow for compromise.
  • The Cons: You might want to steer clear of arbitration for certain reasons, including:
    • The findings of the arbitrator are final in the case of voluntary binding arbitration and can only be contested on appeal, under very limited circumstances; and,
    • In a non-binding arbitration, you’ll still have to go to trial if you have issues with the arbitrator’s decision.

Because the different ADR approaches can resolve such a wide array of legal matters, it’s wise to consider arbitration and mediation proceedings if you’re a party in a lawsuit or other dispute. However, there are advantages and disadvantages, so you should consult with a Florida ADR lawyer to fully understand the implications of both processes.  Mitchell Feldman, of Feldman Mediation & Arbitration Services has extensive knowledge of the Florida laws and Rules governing ADR matters and years of experience in representing clients in these forums.   Please contact our Tampa office with questions or to schedule a mediation or arbitration.




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