Guest Column: Mediation to resolve business disputes

Mediating a dispute is a cost-effective alternative that may produce a favorable resolution in a timely manner

Businesses often use the Alabama court system to resolve disputes. One study showed that more businesses than individuals initiate cases annually in Alabama courts. However, resolving a case through the court system takes time and costs money. The length of time to get a case resolved by a court depends on many factors. Resources allocated to the state court system are limited and have not kept up with population increases. Most judges are assigned civil, criminal and often family law cases. Because of constitutional issues such as the right to a speedy trial and other factors, criminal cases often have to be addressed before civil matters such as claims by or against businesses. The recent pandemic caused additional backlogs to develop, resulting in more delays. Even if a favorable result is ultimately obtained, an opposing party may appeal, and more delays will be encountered.

Mediating a dispute is a cost-effective alternative that may produce a favorable resolution in a timely manner. According to the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution, mediation is “a confidential, informal process during which an impartial third party, the mediator, assists disputing parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement regarding their dispute.”

Benefits to mediation include:

  • It is confidential. The Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rules apply to most mediations and require the information disclosed in the proceedings to be confidential. The mediator cannot be called as a witness by anyone. This permits the parties to talk freely and openly in the mediation process about a possible resolution.
  • The parties are in control. If a trial is necessary, the outcome is up to a judge or jury and is uncertain. A resolution reached through mediation is certain and final. Furthermore, the relief that a court can grant is often limited and may not fully address all issues. In mediation, the parties can creatively fashion a result to meet all their needs.
  • Negotiations are more efficient and effective when facilitated by a third party skilled in helping participants reach a resolution.

Parties to a dispute pending in an Alabama court can voluntarily agree to mediate, or the mediation may be court-ordered under Ala. Code 6-6-20. If court-ordered, the mediator should ordinarily be listed on the roster of trained mediators maintained by the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution, (Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rule 4). Mediators listed on the roster must complete an approved training course in proper mediation techniques and ethical considerations. Parties may select a mediator from the roster by practice area and/or geographic location.

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Unless otherwise ordered by the court, mediators are not required to be listed on the roster. Mediation is not limited to cases pending in a court, and mediation is often used by businesses to resolve claims before a lawsuit is filed.

Mediation is a proven process for businesses to reach a certain, final, cost-effective resolution for any type of dispute. More information is available at

Scott Donaldson is a shareholder at the Rosen Harwood law firm in Tuscaloosa. He has a statewide mediation, trial and appellate practice. He was an Alabama Circuit Judge from 2003-2013 and a Judge on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals from 2013-2021.

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