BEFORE YOU LITIGATE - - MEDIATE
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
Did you know that this year you are more likely to be involved in a lawsuit than go to the hospital? Each year there are more than 10 million lawsuits filed in the United States and the average cost for each side involved is $5,000. "It's true," assures Rick Troy, executive director for The Resolution Center of Macomb County, "and it doesn't have to be that way." The Resolution Center of Macomb County is a nonprofit origination, which is part of Michigan's Community Dispute Resolution Program.
There is a good chance that you have been involved in some type of court case in your lifetime and if you're like most, you were probably shocked to see how much the process cost and how long it can take to resolve. But what other choice is there? In Michigan, residents can turn to mediation centers for alternative solutions. There are 27 Resolution Centers, like the one in Macomb County, throughout the state which offer consumers and businesses alike the chance to resolve their disputes through mediation or conciliation--for as little as $100.
The major differences between a traditional law suit and mediation are time and money, states Troy. Compare the average investment of time and money with mediation ($100 and a few weeks) to that of a legal lawsuit ($10,000 and several months).
Most often, litigation means hiring at least one lawyer, filing mounds of paperwork and waiting for court dates. Usually taking time off work is necessary, resulting in loss of income in addition to the lawyer's fees and court costs. On the other hand, with mediation disputing parties agree to meet in a private, confidential setting with a neutral person (mediator) to try and resolve their differences. Resolution Center mediators are residents of the county where the center is found; they are well trained under the Michigan Legislature's guidelines and do not make final decisions or act as a judge. They simply work with the disputing parties to resolve the disagreement amicably.
Another alternative to mediation is conciliation. It is another form of dispute resolution offered which doesn't require the disputing parties to meet face-to-face. The conciliation process is conducted over the phone without formal mediation, using Resolution Center staff.
Since the program began in 1990, mediation and conciliation have become popular and successful alternatives for thousands of Michigan residents. In 1995, Resolution Centers resolved more than 3,500 cases and the Michigan Supreme Court's evaluation of the program sites that 80 percent of those participating reached a satisfactory resolution to their problems. In fact, monetary settlements have exceeded $6,540,000 over the program's six-year span. As a result, many courts will suggest mediation, even after a case is filed if the likelihood of a successful resolution exists. The court system has recognized the potential to save both private and public dollars when these alternatives are used.
Typically, the types of disputes that can be successfully resolved through mediation include, neighborhood, landlord/tenant, consumer/merchant, contractual, small claims cases up to $1,750, family disputes, guardianship, business/business, disputes involving money or personal property. Not all situations are appropriate for mediation; disputes involving serious violence, controlled substances or substance abuse are not well suited for this type of resolution.
If mediation has been recommended by the court or someone is simply interested in mediation, the process can be started just by contacting a center and making the request. Next, a case developer contacts the other party(s) and assures that they are interested in resolving the problem and are willing to participate. If everyone agrees, a mediation session is arranged and the disputing parties and the mediators begin defining the issues involved and exploring possible solutions. When an agreement is reached, the mediator places the agreement in writing for everyone's approval. Over the next 18 months, the mediator will follow up with all the parties involved to make sure that the agreement is working satisfactorily.
Mediation is proving to be a cost effective and friendly alternative to filing lawsuits. To find a mediation resolution center in your community or for more information call (800) 8-RESOLVE.