Is Your Lawsuit Stuck Due to COVID? Stipulated Mediation May Be the Answer.

You may wish to give mediation a second look. If you are business owner involved in pending business litigation, you are likely frustrated with the progress – or rather the lack of progress – in your case. Whether as a plaintiff looking for a resolution of your grievance or a defendant eager for vindication, it is frustrating when the courts keep pushing back deadlines and hearings, with no end in sight. When Michigan shut down back in March 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court directed (and rightfully so) that criminal cases be prioritized. Civil matters – and especially business disputes – got pushed to the back of the docket. Now, as many of the courts have resumed normal (albeit remote) operations, they are playing catch-up. This is especially so in busy circuits like Wayne and Oakland.

Business owners do not make money in litigation. Lawsuits are expensive in terms of both time and money – there is little doubt that you are not making the best use of your time if you are stuck in an 8-hour deposition, rather than out there selling your product. This is why mediation is always a good idea, even in the best of times, but during COVID, it is the best possible solution to a number of complicated problems facing business owners attempting to resolve their disputes in the courts.

Even if you have already mediated (unsuccessfully), you may consider another attempt. There is no limit to how many times you can try to facilitate a case. Some judges even order the parties to mediate multiple times during the process at different stages of the case. The court rule that governs mediation, MCR 2.411, is very flexible and allows the parties to stipulate to a mediator of their choosing, whether an attorney, a former judge, or even a respected neighbor in the community. COVID has brought about a sea change for businesses across the United States and there is little doubt that the primary facts, interests, and goals, are different now than they may have been pre-COVID. Accordingly, you may want to try again and possibly with a different mediator.

Effective mediation can work wonders, even with the most stubborn parties. I once represented a former employee, whose employer owed her at least $60,000 in back wages. The employer was a start-up entrepreneur in the fitness business, who was big on making promises, but not so big on delivering them. In other words, he promised to pay many times, but at the end of the day, was either unable or unwilling to write a check for services rendered. The employer was also very aggressive and responded to a rather simple breach of contract complaint with counter-allegations of embezzlement and fraud that were unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. The court strongly suggested mediation, but I had no hopes that this case was going to end up anywhere other than trial. Much to my surprise, our mediator was able to craft a solution that settled the case. Not only that, but the mediator’s resolution made both sides feel like they won. That to me is the hallmark of a good mediation – where both sides feel like they are better off than they were prior to mediation. Better yet, the employer could now devote his time and money to his business instead of the lawsuit, and the former employee could spend her time working elsewhere and making money, instead of paying attorneys and going to hearings.

Now is a time like no other to engage a mediator to resolve that business case. The advantages are numerous:

  • Many judges will encourage parties to settle anyway, and even before COVID less than 1% of all business cases were resolved through trial.
  • The monetary cost of taking a case to trial has increased exponentially, as disputes have been more complex and the costs of discovery has skyrocketed in large part due to technology.
  • The time opportunity cost of taking a case to trial has also increased exponentially, as discovery has grown more complex and requires more time input from business owners.
  • The opportunity cost of taking a case to trial is also unpredictable and may largely depend on the forum and the particular judge’s preferences. I once was involved in a relatively straight-forward contract dispute that was pending for over a year, the judge refused to rule on any motions or set the case for trial, and ordered mediation at least 3 times. The parties eventually gave up and settled after the third mediation.
  • In the same vein, the parties can mutually decide on a mediator that fits their needs, whereas in litigation, the parties do not chose their judge.
  • If you filed pre-COVID litigation, consider whether mediation (even if you have previously tried mediation) can be a way out of the slowed-down docket across the state. After all, the facts, interests, and goals of the parties may look quite different than they looked back in February 2020.

Also, online mediation through videoconferencing (like Zoom) is viable and surprisingly effective option. Consider the following advantages:

  • No need for parties or attorneys to travel, allowing for convenience of all.
  • Greater flexibility means potentially lower costs and quicker resolution.
  • Potentially lower mediator fees.
  • Option to have multiple days or extended sessions, as may be needed.
  • Increased scheduling flexibility for all parties.
  • Technological advances such as separate virtual conference rooms, screensharing, text chat, and online whiteboards make it easy for the parties to share information with each other and the mediator.

Artaev at Law offers mediation services as well as representation in alternative dispute resolution proceedings. Contact Dan at dan@artaevatlaw.com or by call or text at 269-930-0254 to schedule your mediation or to secure representation.

© 2020 Artaev at Law PLLC. All rights reserved.

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