Under New Jersey Court Rule 4:21A, parties in certain civil cases are required to take part in mandatory, non-binding arbitration. Mandatory non-binding arbitration in New Jersey can lead to early resolution of cases, saving all parties’ attorneys’ fees and other costs.
Of course, not all cases are resolved by the arbitrator. But once an arbitrator issues a decision, even if initially rejected by a party, it can serve as a guidepost for parties to later settle their case prior to trial.
Which Cases Are Required to Be Arbitrated?
There are several types of cases detailed in the rule which are required to be arbitrated:
- Auto negligence personal injury
- Other personal injury cases, not including professional malpractice or product liability
- Book account and personal injury protection (PIP) cases against the plaintiff’s insurer
- Contract and construction litigation cases deemed suitable for arbitration
The parties in other types of civil cases can agree to submit their case to arbitration.
A party may object to arbitration before or within 15 days of receipt of the notice scheduling of an arbitration hearing. After that time, a party who does not want to take part in the arbitration must file an objection by formal motion.
Who Are the Arbitrators?
The arbitrators can be practicing attorneys for over ten years in the area involved in the litigation. Additionally, retired Superior Court judges also serve as arbitrators in New Jersey.
Administration of the Arbitration
The Arbitration Administrator in the county in which the case is pending notifies the parties of the scheduled hearing after they complete discovery. That hearing date must be 45 days or longer after they complete discovery.
At least 10 days prior to the arbitration, the parties exchange a statement of facts and legal issues involved in the case. They also send this statement to the arbitrator.
The parties may include additional documents with their pre-hearing statement of facts.
Conduct of the Arbitration Hearing
The parties may call witnesses and produce documents at the hearing.
The arbitrator can subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents. At the hearing, the arbitrator administers oaths, makes rulings on the admission of testimony and evidence and decides legal and factual issues, much like a judge.
The rules of evidence do not apply in mandatory, non-binding arbitration in New Jersey. Therefore, the arbitrator can consider affidavits and deposition testimony. Moreover, parties may enter medical records, weather reports, police records, etc., without formal authentication. However, to use such records at the hearing, the party offering the documents must have provided them to other parties prior to the hearing.
The Arbitration Award
Under the court rule, the arbitrator is to file the award within 10 days of the completion of the arbitration. Within 30 days of the filed award, any of the parties may reject the award by filing a notice of the rejection, requesting a trial de novo, and a filing fee of $200.
In that instance, the case will be returned to the trial calendar and scheduled for trial within 90 days.
If no one rejects the award, a party has 50 days from the filing of the arbitration award to move for confirmation of the award and entry of judgment.
If no action is taken by any party to either reject or confirm the award by the above deadlines, then the Court will enter an order dismissing the action.
Lastly, there is the potential for a party to be ordered to pay a capped amount of an adversary’s legal fees and witness costs in the subsequent trial de novo. That will depend on how much the jury verdict differs from the arbitration award.
The civil litigation attorneys at Schiller, Pittenger & Galvin, P.C., have extensive experience in New Jersey’s mandatory non-binding arbitration program. We are well-equipped to arbitrate cases on behalf of clients, if appropriate. If you have questions about mandatory non-binding arbitration in New Jersey, call the firm in its Scotch Plains office at 908-490-0444 or contact us here.