Why Do Courts Require Parties to Attempt Mediation in Disputes?
Attorneys of all experience levels are familiar with mediation as a means of resolving disputes out of court, having learned about the process back in law school. However, you may be surprised to learn that some state and federal courts actually require parties to participate in mediation proceedings in Florida before you can move your lawsuit forward to trial. Local court rules and the specifics of your case determine whether your matter is subject to court-ordered mediation, so it’s important to do your homework for exact requirements. Still it’s helpful to understand why courts and the legislature have enacted such rules – whether you’ve already handled cases where mediaton is mandatory or are new to practice in Florida.
Florida Law on Mediation: State law requires courts to refer civil cases involving monetary damages to mediation, upon the request of one party. The exceptions where a court cannot order mediation are:
- Landlord tenant disputes;
- Collections matters;
- Small claims cases;
- Expedited trial matters; and,
- Voluntary trial resolution, per court rules.
In addition, mediation is required in workers’ compensation matters. The law states that presiding judges must schedule a mediation conference forty days after a petition for benefits is filed, unless the parties engage in a private mediation conference. State law also makes mediation mandatory in medical malpractice cases.
Court Rules: Court systems also make rules regarding mediation, which are effective for cases filed in their own jurisdiction. US federal courts for the Middle, Southern, and Northern Districts of Florida have rules regarding mandatory mediation, as does the 5th District Court of Appeals.
Advantages of Mediation: State law and court rules on mandatory mediation exist because of the numerous benefit offered by the process – both for the parties and their attorneys, and the court system.
- For the Florida and Federal Court Systems: At the trial court level, the primary advantage of mandatory mediation is efficiency. Courts are extremely busy, with full dockets and demanding schedules. Mediation has a high success rate in resolving disputes, freeing up the courts’ time for other pressing matters.
- For the Parties: Mediation is less costly and time-consuming than going to trial, and – unlike court proceedings – all matters discussed are confidential. At the same time, the agreements reached through mediation are legally binding: If the parties are able to compromise, a written contract is prepared and signed. In the event of a breach of the terms of the agreement, the damaged party has legal recourse.
There are a number of reasons that the Florida Legislature and various court systems at the state and federal level have made mediation mandatory for certain cases. Mediation proceedings are effective in resolving many types of legal disputes and they make the trial process more efficient, so the advantages extend to the parties, their attorneys, the courts, and the public in general. If you’re a lawyer involved with a mandatory mediation case, it’s important to seek assistance from an experienced mediator with the proper credentials under Florida law. For more information on mediation cases or to speak with a professional, please contact the Tampa office of Feldman Mediation & Arbitration Services.