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The Pastor’s Study

QUESTION: The church has been sued by a church visitor who fell in our sanctuary, and her attorney has suggested we go to arbitration.  What is that exactly? 

ANSWER: Arbitration is a process much like a court trial.  In arbitration, the disputing parties submit their case to a trained, neutral third party, for fact finding and judgment.  There are two types of arbitration:

1. Binding arbitration results in a decision by the arbitrator that is binding on the parties and is enforceable by the courts as a final judgment.

2. Advisory (or nonbinding) arbitration results in a decision that is neither binding nor enforceable by court.  The purpose of advisory arbitration is to facilitate settlement by giving the parties an indication of the likely outcome of the case, should it proceed to trial or in binding arbitration.

Arbitration differs from judicial system litigation in that an arbitration proceeding need not adhere to the formal rules of evidence and civil procedure required at trial, which tend to be costly to comply with and are perceived as difficult to understand.  In a judicial proceeding, a judge typically controls how the case will be presented and what the jury will hear, and the jury will decide what happened based on what it is told it can consider.  An arbitrator decides what weight to give each piece of evidence, but does not exclude evidence from presentation, as courts typically are compelled to do by rules of evidence.  An arbitrator is more likely to directly ask questions of the witnesses and openly indicate to the parties what type of evidence would be considered important to support the points in contention.

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