What is it?
All New Jersey personal injury cases go through Non-Binding Arbitration. It is scheduled for a date that is after discovery has closed and before trial starts.
The parties and their attorneys go to Court and meet with another attorney (Arbitrator) who is not involved in the lawsuit. The Arbitrator will have experience handling similar lawsuits and will make a call on what he/she believes a jury would do with your lawsuit.
The Arbitrator will review the evidence and write the decision on a sheet that that is provided to the parties.
R 4-21A of the New Jersey Rules of Court sets out the rules for the Non-Binding Arbitration.
Will I Speak with the Arbitrator?
You should be prepared to answer questions from the Arbitrator and the lawyers. However, sometimes, the Arbitrator will decide he/she does not need to speak with the parties and will be comfortable reaching a decision based on the written submissions and the representations of the lawyers.
If the Arbitrators and the lawyers ask you questions, you should be reassured because it is a less formal environment. Nobody will object to your answers and no record is being made of what is said.
Who is the Arbitrator?
The Arbitrator is either a practicing lawyer or a retired judge. Most often, it is a lawyer who practices in the same county and has experience with similar lawsuits.
In some New Jersey counties, there will be two Arbitrators.
Will my Case end with Arbitration?
The Arbitrator reaches a decision at the end of the Arbitration hearing. A copy of the decision is given to the lawyers. The parties have 30 days to reject the decision of the Arbitrator by filing for a demand for a Trial de Novo. If a party files for a Trial de Novo, the case goes on the trial calendar and the lawsuit continues.
If no party files a demand for a Trial de Novo within 30 days, the decision of the Arbitrator becomes binding on the parties and the case will end.
While one of the parties usually files a demand for a Trial de Novo, if the decision of the Arbitrator is close to what the parties believe is fair, the parties can use the Arbitrator’s decision as a guide to try and negotiate a final settlement of the matter.
Some insurance companies use the Arbitrator’s decision as a fair value of the case. Other insurance companies generally ignore the Arbitrator’s decision and stick to their own evaluation of the case, regardless of what the Arbitrator decides.