In Michigan, the state’s circuit courts have two types of alternative dispute resolution (which is also known as “ADR”) to settle civil claims involving money damages. They are case evaluation and mediation.
What is a Michigan Case Evaluation?
Michigan case evaluation is a kind of ADR. The Michigan Court Rules define ADR as “any process designed to resolve a legal dispute in the place of court adjudication.” This can include a settlement conference and facilitation by a judge.
The case evaluation process is mandatory for most civil cases in Michigan where the plaintiff is seeking monetary damages. This process typically happens after discovery is concluded and before trial.
In the case evaluation process, the attorneys for the parties must meet with a panel. This panel consists of three attorneys who are appointed by the court. The panel will review the case, examine the facts and apply the law, as well as receive testimony on their positions from the parties’ attorneys. The panel’s three attorneys have distinct roles:
A case evaluation hearing is designed to bring about a settlement, so nothing said or used in the case evaluation process—such as statements made in the hearing—can be used in court. This allows the parties’ attorneys to be straightforward and direct about their positions in the case.
A case evaluation hearing begins with the attorney for the plaintiff providing the panel with a brief background of the case. The plaintiff’s attorney states their client’s injuries, medical treatment, and the reasons why their client should be compensated. Next, the attorney for the defendant articulates his or her argument as to why the plaintiff isn’t entitled to the requested compensation. The panel will question the attorneys during the entire hearing process.
The parties themselves don’t take part in the case evaluation hearing. However, if a party does participate in the hearing, Michigan Court rules stipulate that the party can’t give any testimony.
Is the Case Evaluation Process Lengthy?
No, the case evaluation process is usually very quick and may last less than a half-hour. After the case evaluation hearing, the members of the panel will issue an evaluation of liability with a dollar amount within 14 days. In many instances, the evaluation award made immediately on the same day as the hearing.
The panel doesn’t produce a written opinion or explanation of the reasoning it used to reach its decision.
The case evaluation panel can issue a unanimous or non-unanimous liability award. This liability award has a meaningful and important effect on the way in which the case moves forward. Regardless of whether the panel’s liability award is unanimous or not, both parties are given 28 days to accept or reject the amount in the liability award. If both sides accept the amount in the case evaluation liability award, the case will settle for that amount. If one of the parties rejects, the amount in the liability award, the case continues.
If the panel issues a unanimous case evaluation liability award, the rejecting party may have to pay the opposing party’s attorney fees and costs. (This is from the date of case evaluation forward if they fail to improve their position at trial by 10%).
How Does a Case Evaluation Work?
Say the panel issued a case evaluation liability award against you for $100,000, you accepted that amount and agreed to pay the other party that sum. However, the other party rejected this, and the case is subsequently dismissed or the jury renders a verdict at trial that’s 10% less than the amount of the case evaluation award ($90,000, which is 10% less than the $100,000 case evaluation award), the other party could be ordered to pay attorney fees and costs from the case evaluation hearing until the conclusion of the case.
Now say that you accepted the $100,000 case evaluation award, and the other party rejected this, but they received a verdict that’s more than 10% of the case evaluation award ($110,001), neither party would have to pay attorney fees and costs.
Finally, if you rejected the $100,000 case evaluation award, and the other party got a verdict of $110,001 or more, you may be ordered to pay their costs and attorney fees from the hearing date forward.
The prospect of paying the other parties attorneys fees and costs is sometimes enough motivation for the parties to settle the case for the amount in the case evaluation award. That’s why it’s critical to have a strong case at the case evaluation hearing. Plus, that’s why it’s critical to work with an experienced Michigan personal injury attorney at Buchanan Firm who knows how to best present your case to the case evaluation panel, using video technology.
How is Case Evaluation Different from Mediation?
The case evaluation process usually does not resolve a claim but sets the framework for moving forward with a settlement or at trial. In contrast, in mediation, a neutral third party facilitates discussions to try to get the two sides to come to an agreement on compensation.
The objective of mediation is to have the parties discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions, and to help provide an incentive for each side toward a settlement that’s mutually acceptable. Mediation can save the parties significant expense when compared to the cost of preparing and proceeding to trial.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to an injury or complication you believe was an error by the physician, surgeon, or hospital… or you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney at Buchanan Firm in Michigan for a free consultation. We can discuss your situation and determine the best way to move forward.
Our firm serves Michiganders all over the state, including in major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.
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