MDRS Settlement Days

What’s better than settling a claim? Settling 4-8 of them – all in a SINGLE DAY. MDRS is a leading provider of Settlement Days: mediation-focused marathons conducted at the insurer’s office where 4-8 cases are lined up for time-concentrated sessions with settlement as the primary goal. Secondary in nature, but perhaps equally as critical, are the avoidance of claims’ personnel travel time and expenses, a beneficial mediation fee schedule, and high settlement rates. MDRS can work with your firm to put together a framework that fits your needs, as well as a cost-benefit analysis. Call (800) 536-5520 for further information.

The Attorney, The Client, and The Mediator

By Brian Jerome, Esq.

Many attorneys recall law school being focused primarily on developing strong advocacy and trial expertise, with less emphasis placed on developing negotiation skills. Litigators rightly pride themselves on strong defensive skills; it is this ability and willingness of an attorney to effectively try their case that creates the opportunity to reach more favorable pre-trial settlements for their clients. However, with less than 3% of cases actually going to trial, focusing on negotiation, mediation, and settlement of cases is widely beneficial.

A mediator is an expert in the complex process of negotiation and settlement of disputes. An effective mediator orchestrates a mediation like an efficient business meeting. S/he creates a dynamic, structured and respectful climate, and sees that all parties, as well as their counsel and/or their insurers, have the opportunity to express themselves as needed to generate a full understanding of all aspects of the conflict, both material and human. S/he helps the parties focus on their fundamental needs and priorities and seeks out and encourages common ground in order to arrive at a satisfactory settlement.

An experienced mediator also goes beyond simple facilitation of the process, exploring the parties’ positions, raising important questions, reality testing, and focusing the participants on potential strengths and weaknesses of their case. The mediator helps the parties identify their key interests and has the ability to cut through posturing and argumentativeness to help parties achieve resolution.

An attorney’s role in the mediation process, as advocate and advisor to their client, is to suggest when mediation is appropriate, whether before suit is filed, or during/after the discovery process. The attorney must also explain the mediation process and benefits, suggest mediator selection, and prepare their clients to take full advantage of what mediation offers. The attorney advises the client on substantive case law, anticipated opposing arguments, potential risks, a realistic valuation of the case, and a range of possible outcomes – all prior to mediation.

Confidentiality plays a vital role in mediation; it’s important that clients understand confidentiality both under the terms of the written mediation agreement in effect as well as by applicable statutes or laws, such as in Massachusetts MGL c. 233, s.23c. Clients who know that their private discussions with the mediator are confidential speak more openly about their case and personal interests, which allows the mediator to better foster a resolution that meets the needs of all involved.

Some attorneys tend to limit their client’s active engagement during the course of the mediation session. While in some cases limiting a client’s participation may be advisable, i.e. where the client has a tendency to speak in a manner damaging to them, has excessive anger, and/or otherwise would disrupt the process, counsel should expect that the mediator will seek to engage the clients in discussion to assess their views, emotions, needs, and priorities. It is important for the mediator to establish a relationship of trust, openness and impartiality with all parties directly. A lawyer should consider advising the mediator in advance of the session of any client issues, such as intense emotions or unrealistic expectations so that the mediator can tailor their approach appropriately.

Some attorneys find it challenging to communicate to their client (or their insurer) weaknesses they have in their case. It can be very powerful for such parties to hear the mediator directly point out shortcomings so they can consider a more realistic evaluation. This is why all parties must attend the mediation. Participation by telephone during the mediation is a poor second to actual attendance. In such circumstances, the mediator’s ability to speak to the party or insurer is necessarily limited, and it is left to the attorney to communicate the many ebbs and flows of an ongoing mediation process to his client, which can be difficult at best for many reasons. To take full advantage of mediator input, the attorney should have his insurance client attend the session and work with the mediator directly.

Principally, a mediation is for and about the parties. It is the client’s case and s/he ultimately decides whether to accept settlement or not at the mediation, after hearing the advice of their counsel. To many, the session is equivalent to their day in court, an opportunity at long last to express their arguments, perspectives and feelings to both the opponent and an expert, impartial mediator, who is there to listen and help promote resolution.
The relationships involved in a mediation are at the heart of resolving the matter.

To learn more about this and other ADR-related topics, visit us at http://www.mdrs.com/faqs/mdrs-articles.

This shortened article was printed in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (April 27, 2015).  For a full and more detailed article, please click here.

Mediation: Achieving Success

How can participants maximize their chances for a successful outcome in mediation? While there are many worthwhile opinions and no shortage of advice, the simple virtue of civility can advance your negotiations in a powerful way.
Overlooked in so many cases is the personal factor. There are reports, claims, medical bills, evidence to be collected. There are usually emotions that further complicate each situation, and always in unique ways. Quite often there is never a direct or seemingly appropriate opportunity for one side to say to the other: “I’m sorry this happened,” an offer of sympathy, or even a kind word. Easy to forget in our world of work and facts and responsibilities is that bringing personal touches such as kindness, friendliness, and receptiveness to traditionally business-focused circumstances can have astounding impact. This is a hidden treasure of a key to help unlock your successful mediation.

While most attorneys and other professionals who participate in mediations display similar traits of civility and courtesy during the mediation process, too often, perhaps in the pursuit of zealous advocacy for the client or their case, an attorney, representative or party, usually in the initial opening joint session, makes comments that cross a line and offend, demean, or alienate their opponent. One should consider that these initial comments at the joint session often set a tone for the hours that follow. Such offending comments become counterproductive to the process and the mediator’s work. Because of these comments, excessive and valuable time becomes required thereafter for the mediator to stabilize the person(s) offended by these comments, often in private caucuses, and make them receptive to compromise and the willingness to show the flexibility needed for a successful outcome. Our experience is that less Rambo and more Dale Carnegie, will significantly improve your odds for a successful mediated resolution.

Don’t confuse civility with weakness. Attorneys, representatives and parties must be able to clearly state their positions as to all relevant issues that arise during a mediation. How and when they do so at a mediation, however, is the issue. We see more and more that experienced trial attorneys, with track records of success as fervent client advocates at trial, are choosing to leave their hatchets at home and making ever briefer and less contentious opening comments at the initial joint mediation session, knowing that the mediation process differs greatly from trial.

Most mediators recognize that for many parties a mediation can be viewed as their “day in court” and they may be used to, or expect, that their counsel in opening comments will passionately attempt to vanquish their opponent. However, experienced counsel will advise their clients of what mediation is and isn’t, and that their opening comments may not be what the client would hear at a trial. Many comments or arguments that could offend the opponent if made at the outset in the open joint session can be shared with the mediator later in private caucuses. Often a mediator may have a better sense of how and when such arguments could then be made most effectively and productively to the opponent.

As Mary Wortley Montagu said well: “Civility costs nothing and buys everything.”

Our expert mediators can help you and your clients resolve even the most contentious of conflicts. Visit us at www.mdrs.com or call us at (800) 536-5520 to learn more about how we can help you achieve the results you need.

Divorce Decree Can’t Compel Mediation

In a recent ruling on Ventrice v. Ventrice, a husband and wife could not be compelled to engage in mediation at their own expense as a condition of their being permitted to file actions in the future to enforce or modify the terms of their divorce. The husband argued that his right to free access to the courts was violated by a clause in his divorce decree requiring the parties to engage in, and pay for, court-directed mediation before either could file any subsequent action in court. Ultimately, the Court agreed. And so do we. In fact, one of our Divorce Mediation experts, C. Michele Dorsey, Esq. writes, “For mediation to be truly effective, it must be voluntary. There have been noble efforts by courts and other administrative agencies to work around this by establishing rules that attempt to address the concerns that arise when court-connected mediation is mandated.” Current Massachusetts law (M.G.L. c.233, aec.23c) provides limited direction and protection for people who choose to participate in private mediation. Ventrice v. Ventrice refers to the direction given by the court in Bower v. Bournay-Bower, a decision that addressed issues regarding the authority of parenting coordinators, but also mentioned mediators and other ADR professionals. It’s high time to enact a comprehensive statute that provides protection to people who choose to engage in private mediation as well as guidance for private mediators.

Mediation is a valuable service which should be available without having to compromise constitutional rights.” Another of our Divorce Mediation experts, Patricia D. Watson, Esq. further notes, “The reference in the decision to Gustin v. Gustin, which held that a judge cannot order the parties to binding arbitration unless they agree to do so, suggests that this decision limits what a judge can order, but does not limit the ability of the parties to agree otherwise.” This indicates that the decision in Ventrice v. Ventrice may be more narrow than it first appears. What does all this mean to those seeking Alternative Dispute Resolution? Mediation and arbitration still remain available to divorce litigants who both agree to employ a process that will provide a faster, less expensive, and less stressful resolution of their conflict then going to court.

Our experts in divorce mediation can help you and your clients resolve even the most contentious of conflicts. Visit us at www.mdrs.com or call us at (800) 536-5520 to learn more about how we can help you achieve the results you need.

Resolution of Complex Issues Go Beyond Insurance

When people think ADR [Alternative Dispute Resolution], imaginations are sometimes limited to situations having an ultimate financial settlement. While this is in many cases true, MDRS has assisted clients in resolving conflicts well beyond dollar signs.

Consider, for example, the family-owned business run for decades by Mom and Dad, now turned Grandma and Grandpa, who are thinking about retiring. Mixed families, involved together for years, are suddenly at odds as their jobs, positions, and futures feel less steady. Who will be chosen to be the next business – and perhaps family – leader? Is there favoritism involved? And what about relationships that are already contentious…are they likely to become even more problematic without Grandma/Mom and Grandpa/Dad keeping the peace and ensuring everyone stays focused on the business? Is it all fair?

There is the question of who works how many hours doing what job to consider, and of course how much they get paid for doing so. Perhaps family salaries were never subject to discussion before, and there are now unhappy surprises. There are benefits, perks, and power struggles on the line. There is, at the very core of the matter, a viable business that must be preserved and run professionally, regardless of these personal and personnel struggles.

MDRS can help resolve a wide range of conflicts, whether comprised of an ultimate financial determination or a complicated host of other factors. Our skilled mediators and arbitrators bring incredible experience to the table and help our clients achieve the results they need: closure and resolution of the issues.

Join thousands of believers when you become one of our clients. Call MDRS at (800) 536-5520 or visit us at www.mdrs.com to learn about how we can help you do more.

Alternatives to Foreclosure

If you are behind in payments on your mortgage, you may be concerned about the very real possibility of foreclosure. If you are in default on your loan and are considering options that you can take to avoid foreclosure, here are some alternatives to consider.

Reinstating Your Mortgage

You can reinstate your mortgage by making up the missed payments along with any fees and interest the lender requires. Sometimes fees can even be negotiated to a lesser amount. Once you receive notice from your lender that foreclosure is imminent, you will have a certain amount of time to pursue this option. While this option is ideal, it can be difficult to accomplish since financial difficulty is often what leads to impending foreclosure in the first place.

Refinancing or Loan Modification

These options can be ideal, since they allow you to secure a better rate, and/or pay off your loan and start over. But issues such as current income and the ability to sustain your loan, the amount of equity in your house, neighborhood values and more can affect these possibilities. If your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may qualify for refinancing under the Home Affordable Refinance Program.

Taking out a Reverse Mortgage

With a reverse mortgage you can access the equity of your home without selling. With a reverse mortgage you receive money from a lender which you typically do not need to pay back while you still live in the house. If you sell the house, the loan must then be repaid. You are a candidate for a reverse mortgage if you are over 62 years old and have considerable equity. The downside of a reverse mortgage is that they take part or all of your equity, leaving you with a significantly smaller estate to pass to your beneficiaries. Also, while you do not have to make mortgage payments, you may still be liable for property taxes and other fees, so making certain you can afford these costs is key.

Taking the Fight to Court

If you believe that your lender didn’t follow state or federal law when approaching the foreclosure process or you feel they violated the terms of your loan agreement, you may decide to fight the foreclosure in court. Foreclosing parties are often required to show documentation that they own the mortgage loan and have a right to foreclose.

Giving up your House

When foreclosure is looming, you may decide that it is the right choice for you to give up the house. If you decide that this is the best route for you, there are a couple ways to approach this decision.

One way is to arrange a “short sale” and sell the home as a means to avoid foreclosure. With a short sale, you are selling the house for less than the outstanding debt. If you have more than one mortgage on your house, this option may not be a possibility, since all lending parties have to agree to the terms of a short sale, and your second and third mortgage lenders will not profit from this scenario. If you are able to arrange a short sale, it will have an added long-term benefit by not negatively impacting your credit score as much as foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Another way to give up your house as a means to avoid foreclosure is to sign a “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” which simply means handing over the house to your lender by deeding the property to them so that foreclosure becomes unnecessary. If you decide to pursue this route, make sure you come to an agreement with your lender so that they won’t pursue any further deficiency. It is always important to get agreements of this kind in writing. Some homeowners are able to negotiate a “cash for keys” agreement where the lender provides the homeowner with a small amount of money in order to assist the homeowner in relocation.

Ultimately, while foreclosure is an unfortunate scenario, there are ways to avoid it, especially if you act sooner rather than later. If you are considering your options and are unsure which route to take, foreclosure mediation allows for open communication between homeowners and lenders on neutral ground so that a mutually agreed upon alternative can be reached.

MDRS Spotlight on Premises Liability

According to a recent statistic, the National Safety Council reported that slip and fall accidents account for 1 million visits to the ER per year.  And these account for only a fraction of premises liability cases, which can occur from any injury suffered on property belonging to or maintained by another person or party.  Premises liability cases can be complex and unique, with many factors that can impact an individual case.  After all, where premises liability is concerned, it can be difficult to prove whether the fault is on the injured party or the owner of the property where the injury has occurred. Those involved in these unfortunate accidents deserve fair resolution.

Using Alternative Dispute Resolution to settle these types of cases can often be the best choice for both parties. Rather than waiting years to resolve their case, both parties will be able to come to an agreeable settlement without leaving the decision in the hands of the court system.

What makes ADR the best choice for resolving these cases? Control is in the hands of those involved and a settlement can be reached that is fair and acceptable to both parties.  In addition, a case can be handled quickly, at the pace determined by those involved, without sacrificing valuable time and money, which is often a consequence of cases brought to trial.

At MDRS, we have knowledgeable and skilled mediators who have a multitude of experience handling premises liability cases.  Whether it be a building maintenance issue, a construction site incident, the use of defective tools or equipment, an animal attack or a workers’ compensation claim, our mediators have seen and handled it all, including the resolution of thousands of slip and fall cases.  Now, more than ever, ADR is the answer.  See our Areas of SpecialtyPremises Liability page for more information on how we can help resolve your case.