If you have suffered an injury in an accident that was someone else’s fault, such as a car crash or a slip-and-fall, you have the right to seek compensation for your losses. After all, you should not bear financial responsibility for medical expenses or lost wages when another party’s negligence caused your injuries. When you file a personal injury claim, you will present your evidence to the at-fault party’s insurer and negotiate a fair settlement.
However, insurance companies can sometimes undervalue or reject your claim. In such instances, your only option to pursue the money you deserve is to file a civil lawsuit. Yet before your case gets to the courtroom, you may have a final opportunity to reach a negotiated settlement via mediation. Understanding how mediation works and what legal obligations each party has can help you feel prepared as you progress through your claim.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is a conference between the parties to the case. The process involves both sides meeting with a certified mediator, who is often a retired judge or third-party legal professional. The mediator’s goal is to listen to each side’s argument and determine whether they can find any common ground to help them form a mutually beneficial agreement.
While the format will vary according to the circumstances, mediation usually takes place over the course of a day. The mediator will meet with both sides together and individually. As the mediator learns more about each party’s concerns, they will use their knowledge and experience to inform each party about the realistic prospects of their expectations. The mediator will also propose various potential solutions to bring the two sides together.
Is Mediation Mandatory in Personal Injury Cases?
Mediation is a compulsory stage of every civil action in Florida. Before the case proceeds to trial, the court will require the parties to schedule and attend a mediation session to try to reach a settlement. Both sides will know well in advance when their session will be so they can have sufficient time to prepare.
While many people think mediation is purely a formality, the reality is that mediation often brings a case to its conclusion before a courtroom trial is necessary. This outcome tends to benefit all parties, as it saves significant amounts of money and time compared to going to court.
Are the Mediator’s Proposed Solutions Legally Binding?
Unlike a court order or a jury’s verdict, a mediator’s suggestions during a session are not legally binding. Both sides are free to accept or reject a solution according to what they feel is appropriate.
Mediation becomes legally binding only after both sides have accepted a solution, written a formal mediation agreement, and signed the contract. At this point, either side can face legal consequences if they are deemed to be in breach of contract.
Does Mediation Mean Settlement?
The mediation process does not directly equate to settlement. Rather, the session’s purpose is to provide a helpful avenue toward settlement. If mediation is unsuccessful, your case will proceed to court. However, if you are able to reach and formalize an agreement with the other party, your case will come to a close. You will generally receive your financial settlement within a matter of weeks.
When Is a Mediation Settlement Not Legally Binding?
While both sides usually have a vested interest in upholding the agreement, some circumstances may lead to a mediation contract’s nullification. Examples include:
- When a party uses fraudulent misrepresentation to make the other party sign
- When a party signs the contract under duress or undue influence
- If a party was mentally incapacitated at the time of signing
- If either party mistakenly signed the agreement
- In the event of any other illegal influences contributing to the creation of the contract
If you believe your mediation contract may be subject to nullification, speak to your personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Contact The Bruner Law Firm Today
While a mediation session does not have the same degree of pressure as a courtroom trial, navigating the process can still feel overwhelming. If your claim is heading to mediation, you need an experienced Florida personal injury attorney to represent your best interests. The seasoned legal team at The Bruner Law Firm has over 25 years of experience representing injured clients in the Florida panhandle and southeast Alabama. We will fight for the compensation you deserve.