An “arbitration” occurs when two parties—the person hurt and the person/company allegedly responsible for the injury—have agreed to submit their dispute not before a court, but a private citizen who will choose who is right and who is wrong.
Most consumer contracts for everyday items like cell phones or credit cards contain provisions that require you to arbitrate any legal dispute you might have with them rather than file a lawsuit. When you click through those “I’ve Read And Agree To The Terms And Conditions” pages, that’s one of the things you agreed to. Big companies do this because they’re more concerned that a jury would render a large verdict against them and would prefer to instead have a private individual with a legal background decide their case.
Which is the point; any company that’s already planning on getting sued isn’t going to pick a forum in which they have a disadvantage. That’s why, if you find yourself in an arbitration for your personal injury case, you need to have an experienced lawyer on your team who’s been through the arbitration process before.
How Arbitration Works
Arbitration is a lot like a trial. The plaintiff presents his evidence, the defendant presents theirs, and the arbitrator ultimately rules in favor of the plaintiff or defendant based upon the evidence presented. If the arbitrator in a personal injury case decides that the defendant was in fact liable for the accident, then he must decide how much money to award the plaintiff.
The rules of the process are similar to the rules that govern civil court cases. This applies to which evidence is admissible, which witnesses can be called, and the general structure of the proceedings.
Unlike a civil court where the mistakes a judge makes are appealable to a higher court, you cannot an arbitrator’s decision. However, arbitrators are attorneys and are more likely to adhere to the law if you have an advocate on your side who can remind them what the law says. This is why you need an attorney with the ability to marshal all the evidence in your case to its most polished before the arbitrator–himself a trained and experienced attorney–sees it. Juries can sometimes overlook errors that a trained legal eye will catch.