Arbitration is one of several types of alternative dispute resolution. Collectively, the goal of the various types of alternative dispute resolution is to resolve disagreements between parties and avoid the risks and expenses associated with a trial. In some circumstances, parties to agreements, such as contracts, insert a clause providing for arbitration in the event that a future disagreement occurs. Alternatively, parties can also elect to use arbitration after a dispute has arisen if they agree to do so. Furthermore, in Pennsylvania, many county courts, including Schuylkill County, have what is referred to as “Compulsory Arbitration,” during which all disputes of less than $50,000 must utilize arbitration in lieu of a jury trial.
There is a great deal of variation pertaining to the rules and procedures utilized during arbitration proceedings. In some circumstances, parties elect to use a private arbitration group, such as the American Arbitration Association and in such circumstances that entity’s rules and procedures will govern. Alternatively, when Compulsory Arbitration is utilized, the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules of the particular county in which the arbitration is to be held will govern.
Prior to an arbitration, one or more arbitrators will be selected. The arbitrator(s) are the individual(s) who will hear the case and render a decision regarding the matter. Again, there is wide variation as to how the arbitrator(s) are chosen. Under certain rules, the Plaintiff and Defendant each choose one arbitrator, in turn, those two arbitrators are then required to work together to mutually agree upon a third arbitrator. Meanwhile, in Compulsory Arbitration, the County Court of Common Pleas will randomly select three attorneys from the local County Bar Association who will serve as the arbitrators in the case.
The conduct of the arbitration is generally similar to that of a trial. Typically, the Plaintiff calls his or her witnesses to give testimony under oath and to present evidence, as would normally occur during a trial. Subsequently, the Defendant then has the opportunity to call his or her own witnesses and present his or her own evidence. Likewise, as in a trial, both parties have the right to cross examine each other’s witnesses and to make objections in accordance with the rules and procedures that govern the arbitration.
Depending upon the complexity of the matter, an arbitration may be concluded in as little as thirty (30) minutes or it could last as long as several days or weeks.
Following the arbitration, the arbitrators meet in private to deliberate. During this time, the arbitrators discuss amongst themselves the legal issues in the case, such as liability and the legal theories involved in the dispute. Additional discussion may also be held, if appropriate, as to the existence of any damages and the amount of such damages.
Once the arbitrators have made their determination regarding the matter, the parties are then notified, usually via mail. In the event that one or more parties disagrees with the decision of the arbitrators, an appeal from that decision may be possible. However, the right to any such appeal is dependent upon the rules and procedures of the arbitration that is being conducted.