Some larger town and village courts and some city courts use the services of volunteer mediators and arbitrators to assist parties in resolving their cases. Check with the court clerk regarding the availability of arbitrators or mediators for your case. Local rules may apply.
Mediation is a confidential, non-binding dispute resolution process in which an impartial mediator helps parties identify issues, explore options and reach a mutually acceptable outcome. In mediation, you control the outcome and make your own decisions, as opposed to leaving the decision to an arbitrator or a judge. Mediators do not offer their own opinions regarding likely court outcomes or pressure you to settle your dispute. Instead, mediators offer the parties the opportunity to expand the settlement discussion beyond the legal issues in controversy and focus on developing creative solutions that emphasize the parties’ interests and practical concerns.
If a mediation program is available through the court, and if both sides agree, the court may refer the case to mediation. Your case can be scheduled for mediation quickly, at a time and place convenient to all parties. All discussions in mediation are confidential by law. Mediation gives you ample time to discuss all of the issues important to you. If both parties consent, an agreement may be written with the help of the mediator and signed by both parties. Written agreements may be enforceable in court. If you do not reach agreement, you may continue your case in court.
The parties also can agree to take the case to mediation before filing in court. Mediators are available through community dispute resolution centers funded in part by the New York State Unified Court System in all 62 counties of New York State. These mediators are trained under NYS Unified Court System standards. You may locate your nearest community dispute resolution center by checking your telephone book under “mediation” or “dispute resolution,” by asking the court clerk, There is normally no charge for mediation, although there may be a small filing fee.
Arbitration is a binding dispute resolution process in which one or more arbitrators hear arguments, weigh evidence and issue a final judgment on the merits after an expedited hearing.
Arbitrators, many of whom are experienced attorneys, are specially trained to hear and decide small claims cases. Because there are more arbitrators available to hear cases than there are judges, an arbitrator usually will hear your claim sooner than a judge would. Your case can be heard by an arbitrator only if both sides agree. The hearing before an arbitrator is informal and may be less stressful for both parties. The arbitrator applies the same law to your case as a judge would apply. When an arbitrator determines a case, the decision is final, and there is no further appeal by either the claimant or the defendant.
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