The Workings of a Mediation

Recently, we participated in the mediation of a case involving five parties, the design of a new sewer line and the damage to an existing storm drain line. In short, a municipality engaged an engineering firm to design a sewer line extension that was supposed to run parallel to an existing storm drain line. The municipality also hired a general contractor to install the new line. The general contractor, in turn, hired the surveyor to layout the engineer’s design in the field. The general contractor also hired a blasting contractor to detonate explosives according to the surveyor’s field layout in order to make the ground easier to excavate. The explosive charges were placed too close to the existing drain line and the line was subsequently damaged. Needless to say, each party was blaming another. When it came time to mediate the case, each party had drafted its position for the mediator. The mediation was begun with each party in a separate room. The mediator spoke with each party for literally a few minutes to make sure he had an idea of what each party’s position was. Afterward, the negotiations began. In a mediation, it’s not about right and wrong or getting justice, it’s about settling the case. The mediator’s job is get everyone involved to agree on a settlement regardless of position. In the end, all of the defendants contributed some monetary amount to the repair of the drain line. In return, the defendants were able to leave without fear of further legal entanglement in this situation. The case was closed. It should be noted that monetary amounts are often associated with a degree of guilt (otherwise why pay anything?). Unless there is a very strong feeling of innocence, contributing to a settlement is a compromise between settling the case for an acceptable amount and going to court where damages can be imposed at much higher amounts in addition to court costs and attorneys fees.

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