The vast majority of personal injury cases are resolved without proceeding to trial; otherwise, courts may be incapable of managing the volume of claims. In 1976, Harvard Professor Frank Sander presented a concept to assist courts in managing their demanding case volume. The idea termed the “multi-door courthouse” meant courts would transition all cases through an appropriate door for resolving disputes. The different ways of handling the cases included using a mediator, arbitrator, or social service program.
The American Bar Association chose Tulsa, Houston, and Washington D.C as the test program jurisdictions for the concept. They sought to allow easier access to courts, develop better service, and heighten options for dispute resolution.
D.C. Program Overview
The D.C. Superior Court implemented the ADR program in 1985 referred to as the “Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division”, which moved all civil claims to non-binding mediation, general claim evaluation, or to an arbitrator. By 1989, the program had proven to be effective and the court adopted it. Parties in a case participate in a hearing at the onset of the case to agree on a form of ADR.
During a conference a judge examines the case details and considers options for resolution through alternative dispute methods and a reasonable timetable for doing so. Upon conferring with the parties, the case is moved into an ADR path. Any changes or extensions to the schedule must be court approved. Ultimately, if ADR is unsuccessful in finding a resolution, then a pre-trial conference is the next step.
The mediation process is currently the primary option used in cases today, employed 99% of the time in 2016. The following is a summary of the process:
- Mediators are neutral third parties licensed to practice law that complete training
- Both parties must submit a confidentially filed statement to the mediator
- Mediators do not make formal opinions or evaluations
- Parties are encouraged to communicate their interests, positions and potential settlement ideas
- Cases of more complexity require multiple sessions
- Mediation resulted in settlements 30% of the time in 2016 amid 1,269 cases
Both parties submit confidentially filed statements to evaluators. Evaluators listen to the parties to gain insight; but unlike mediators, offer opinions such as likelihood for trial success and fair settlement amounts. They are licensed to practice law and have five years of experience in their assigned realm of law. The option for case evaluation still exists in D.C.; however, it is rarely utilized by courts today.
The parties submit confidential statements to the arbitrator, who is a neutral third-party that manages the case for a 120-day period. Arbitration may be non-binding or binding; in non-binding proceedings a party who is not satisfied with the ruling may request a trial. Arbitrators may rule on motions filed by parties and in binding arbitration enter rulings that are considered court judgments. When the Multi-Door Division initially began, most vehicle accident injury cases were handled in this manner, but today is a rarely used option.