We have alternatives to resolving legal disputes without going to court. Some are mandated, while some are optional. Known as “alternative dispute resolution,” these options can be less expensive and more efficient than a jury trial.
In Arizona, civil cases where the amount disputed falls within a set dollar amount are required to be submitted first to arbitration before moving on to a jury or bench (judge) trial. Each county determines its dollar threshold, known as the jurisdictional limit. In Maricopa County, the jurisdictional limit is $50,000, meaning all civil cases in superior court with a disputed amount of less than $50,000 fall within the arbitration requirement. An arbitrator – a licensed attorney with four or more years of experience – is randomly selected by the arbitration department, and either party may strike the appointed arbitrator. Each party, however, only gets one “free” strike. The arbitrator serves as the judge and jury, considers the evidence, and determines who wins and how much, if anything, is awarded to the successful party. The arbitrator’s decision can be appealed, and the appealed case would be heard again by a judge or jury. The appealing party must do at least 23% better, or face having to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs spent on the appeal. This mandatory arbitration system is very effective in resolving most cases.
Civil litigants can also choose their own option for resolving their dispute. One common choice is binding, “high/low” arbitration, whereby the parties agree to a high and low numbers, unknown to the arbitrator, to minimize their risk. With a high/low agreement, the plaintiff would be guaranteed the low amount, but be limited by the high amount, and have to accept any award in between, but because it is binding, no appeal would be allowed.
More creative options are also available, such as an agreement that the plaintiff would receive either the high or the low, whichever is closer to the arbitrator’s actual award. In some cases, the parties could conduct a “shorttrial,” whereby the case is decided by a jury of four in one day, with each party having only a couple hours to present his or her case. Such shorttrials are binding, and usually include a high/low agreement.
At Rowley Chapman Barney & Buntrock, we always consider better, more efficient and cost effective ways of getting disputes resolved. Give us a call at 480 833-1113.
Attorney Profile: Kevin J. Chapman, Firm Partner