For many years, court-ordered mediation has been used extensively in Florida to help litigants resolve their dispute without going through a trial. Judges love mediation because it clears cases. For that reason, courts often require parties to go through mediation before setting a case for trial. Those parties who successfully reach a mediated settlement save attorneys’ fees by avoiding a trial, and they are able to eliminate the uncertainty of leaving their fate in the hands a judge and jury. But the best time to mediate a dispute may be before any lawsuit is filed.
If both parties are willing to talk before they sue, pre-suit mediation with a Supreme Court-certified circuit court mediator can often assist them in reaching a mutually satisfying resolution. Almost any type of legal dispute can be resolved through voluntary pre-suit mediation, and the potential benefits can be significant. Compared with litigation that can take many months or years to complete, mediation is extremely fast – a mediation can be scheduled within a few days or weeks and mediation sessions are usually completed in only one day. With no filing fees to pay and only a day or two of a mediator’s and attorney’s time for preparation and attending the mediation session, pre-suit mediation is much less expensive compared to fighting it out in court. Finally, while most litigation is done in public, pre-suit mediation is completely private. Under Florida law, matters discussed in mediation are confidential.
Mediation will require compromise, with both parties coming to a mutual agreement. Once agreed to and signed by the parties, a mediation agreement is generally considered an enforceable contract, and therefore it is important to have the agreement reviewed by your attorney before you sign to make sure that it meets your needs.
Despite the advantages of pre-suit mediation, under some circumstances it may be better file a lawsuit. Assets may disappear, or the statute of limitations may expire if you delay filing suit; also, you may need information from the other party which can only be obtained through litigation “discovery.” For this reason, it is important to discuss your situation with an attorney to determine whether pre-suit mediation is the best way to resolve your dispute.