Is Mediation Legally Binding

If you’ve filed a personal injury lawsuit, there’s a good chance your case will go through mediation. Mediation is a dispute resolution method that features negotiations facilitated by a neutral third party with the goal of settling the case. One of the first questions many personal injury plaintiffs ask is, “Is mediation legally binding?”

When Does Mediation Become Binding?

The mediation process itself isn’t binding.

Unless it’s required in your state or ordered by a judge, participation in a mediation session is usually voluntary. Often, one or both sides wish to avoid the cost of a trial in terms of both time and money. Whether the mediation was required or voluntary, you aren’t required to reach a settlement in the mediation session.

In some cases, a judge will order the parties to participate in mediation before setting a trial date. Some states may require mediation in certain types of personal injury claims, like medical malpractice. If a judge orders you to go to mediation, you could be in contempt of a court order if you don’t go. Even in cases where mediation was mandatory, you aren’t required to reach an agreement.

Before the session starts, the mediator and all participating parties sign a confidentiality agreement. This is a legally binding document stating that you will not disclose what is discussed. The parties are forbidden from using what they learn at mediation in a trial. For example, the responsible party may admit they were at fault. Or you may concede that you shared some of the blame for the accident.

Finally, if you reach a mediation agreement, the lawyers or the mediator drafts the document, and the parties sign it, the document becomes a binding contract once the judge approves it. If the judge finds that the agreement fails to meet the elements of a binding contract or is fundamentally unfair to one of the parties, they won’t approve it and may require the parties to renegotiate. The case isn’t closed until the court approves the settlement agreement.

The Role of the Mediator

A mediator is a trained professional, usually someone with a legal background in the types of cases they mediate. For your case, the mediator could be a retired civil judge or former personal injury attorney. This gives them insight into your concerns and the nuances of your case. Their role is to facilitate negotiations and may also suggest possible alternatives to help you reach a compromise.

Mediators don’t have the same authority as the trial judge. They can give an opinion if asked, but they can’t influence one side or the other. What you say to the mediator is confidential, though. Once each side completes its opening statements, then the parties separate. You can talk to the mediator about possible weaknesses in your case and let them know you are eager to settle. They cannot tell the other side anything you reveal to them without your permission.

Do I Have to Settle in Mediation?

No. You have much more control in mediation than you do in court. In a trial, the judge or jury decides whether you’re entitled to compensation and how much you should get. In mediation, you can say yes or no to proffered terms. Even if a judge orders you and the at-fault party to undertake mediation, you don’t have to agree to a settlement. You have the right to a trial if you can’t get the terms you need through mediation.

Your attorney may believe you have a better chance at trial. Perhaps they’re planning to ask a jury for punitive damages. Punitive damages are essentially a financial punishment for wrongdoers whose actions were egregious. Punitive damages aren’t included in a negotiated settlement, so your attorney may want a trial if they think you have a good chance of being awarded such damages.

These are just a couple of reasons why having an experienced personal injury attorney advising you during mediation is important. They can help manage your expectations and help you determine what your best, okay, and lowest possible outcomes should be.

What Happens After Mediation?

Is Mediation Legally Binding

At the conclusion of mediation, these legally binding outcomes are possible.

First, you and the defendant could have reached an agreement. This mediation becomes legally binding once a court approves it. The confidentiality agreement covering mediation is still in effect, though. However, the settlement agreement may have its own nondisclosure clause, which will be legally binding as part of the contract.

Another legally binding part of your case is the release you sign. If you agree to a settlement, before you get your money, you’ll sign a release stating that the settlement you agreed to will close your case, leaving you with no additional claim on the at-fault party. Once the release is signed, the insurance company can issue your check.

If you can’t compromise, your case moves to trial. The outcome of the trial will also be legally binding. The judge or jury reaches a decision, and the court writes an order directing the parties to perform the actions the court decided on, legally closing your case. If you lose, you might be able to appeal the decision in specific circumstances.

Contact Our Personal Injury Lawyers About Your Claim Today

Have you been injured because of another party’s negligence and want justice? Are you struggling financially because of your accident-related medical costs or lost wages from missing time at work? We can help.

The skilled personal injury attorneys at JJ Legal have the experience and knowledge necessary to work toward the best possible outcome for your case. We’re skilled at representing our clients’ best interests in mediation and will protect your interests.

If you’ve been asked or ordered to go to mediation after filing an insurance claim on your own, it’s not too late to have a lawyer to help you with your case. Call us today at 312-200-2000 for a free consultation.

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