South Carolina courts require that the parties engage in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before a personal injury case goes to trial. One form of ADR that can be used to reach a compensation settlement is mediation. It aims to allow the injured individual and the at-fault party to find common ground with the help of a neutral third-party mediator.
At the end of the mediation process, there are two potential outcomes: the parties settle or disagree. What happens after mediation depends on the outcome of the process and what the parties choose to do afterward.
If a Settlement Is Reached
The optimal outcome of mediation is that the parties agree about settling the case. In this scenario, the mediator will help to draft a formal settlement agreement. Lawyers for both sides will thoroughly review the terms of the contract to ensure that their clients have clarity about their rights and obligations under the agreement. If the review meets the satisfaction of both parties, they will put their signatures to the agreement. Once signed, the agreement will be a binding contract that both parties will be legally bound to uphold.
The judge will enter a court order formally adopting the mediated settlement if the pending personal injury case has already been filed in court.
Finally, payment will be disbursed to the injured party as outlined in the settlement agreement. This may involve a lump-sum payment, a structured installment plan, or a combination.
If No Settlement Is Reached
The process will conclude without an agreement if the mediation ends without the sides having reached a settlement. At this point, the parties will evaluate their positions and options, which may include the following:
- The parties may informally continue negotiating if they believe they are nearing an agreement.
- The injured party can provide more documentation to prove negligence, fault, or losses.
- The at-fault party may adjust their previous offer after seeing additional evidence.
Each case is different, and the options will depend on what each side’s attorneys believe are in their client’s best interests.
Proceeding to Trial
If the two parties’ talks remain unproductive, the injured individual may feel compelled to proceed to litigation and trial. However, it is worth noting that this is a significant decision. Courtroom trials can be both costly and lengthy. The process typically lasts over a year. The lawsuit will involve:
- Depositions, in which each party will have to sit for an interview with the opposing side’s attorney under oath
- Discovery, which is the pre-trial phase of the litigation in which the parties exchange evidence and information
- Court motions, which various parties can use in an attempt to bar evidence, delay progress, or dismiss the case entirely
Unlike in mediation or other negotiations, the outcome of a trial is ultimately decided by a judge or jury. This lack of control over the proceedings can make many claimants feel anxious. However, if your lawyer feels confident that the facts are on your side, you may decide that the pros of the litigation process outweigh the cons.
Going to trial is not the only option if talks collapse after an unsuccessful mediation. Some alternatives to avoid the risks, costs, and length of a courtroom trial include:
- Non-binding arbitration involves submitting your case to a neutral third-party arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators) for a decision. Their ruling is non-binding but may indicate the results if the case goes to trial.
- Binding arbitration – This process is like non-binding arbitration, except that the parties agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s decision.
- Neutral expert evaluation involves having an independent expert review your evidence and provide an assessment. This can give both parties clarity on potential outcomes.
- Other creative solutions – Alternative options include roundtable settlement discussions, moderated negotiations, or conflict coaching.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you about whether any of these alternatives may serve your interests better than proceeding directly to litigation.
Contact an Experienced South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney
While many personal injury cases in South Carolina are resolved in mediation, some are not. Either way, planning for all possible eventualities is essential to a successful personal injury claim strategy. However, the many variables can feel overwhelming for anyone going through the process for the first time. That’s why working with an experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney is essential.
The seasoned personal injury legal team at Murphy Crantford Meehan has extensive experience helping injured individuals recover compensation through negotiated settlements, mediation, and courtroom trials. Call us at (843) 396-3049 or contact us online today for a free case evaluation, and let us put our knowledge and skills to work for you.