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.

Would you Hire an Expert to Help you Deal With an Insurance Company?

In my last post, I talked about how people sometimes get angry when they find out that their claim is about to be denied because some engineer doesn’t see things their way.  All of a sudden, the engineer becomes a target for some nasty comments.  I also mentioned that insurance companies aren’t the only ones that could hire an engineer or any other expert for that matter.  Individual policyholders can do the same thing.  However, the reason that most don’t is because of the expense, preferring instead, to allow the insurance company to hire the expert.  I’ve thought about this quite a bit and am wondering if this is really true.  How many policyholders would actually hire an engineer (or adjuster, appraiser, etc) to determine if they have a claim and then pursue it if there is merit?  After practicing forensic engineering for over 20 years, I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have told me how cheated they have felt when their claims were denied.  Some believe that paying premiums faithfully for years entitles them to an unquestionable settlement.  Others believe that an investigation by an engineer, private investigator, or other expert amounts to an invasion of privacy and is insulting at the very least.  Regardless of a consumer’s attitude, it is in their best interest to engage the appropriate expert (if affordable).  Imagine having somebody on your side when you enter into negotiations with your insurer. Or, imagine when, there is a disagreement between you and your insurer about how your property was damaged and, you have someone to speak on your behalf.  Remember that your expert is not your “mouthpiece”. In other words, you are not hiring someone to speak for you regardless of the facts.  If you hire an engineer, the evidence must support your contentions if that person is to be able to present your case and DEFEND it.  If the facts don’t support your position, your engineer (or any other expert) is obligated to advise you.  In other words, the engineer has to make an unbiased call based on the evidence.  If the claim goes to court, the last thing you need is to have your expert’s testimony disqualified because of bias. 

So, having said all of the above, would you hire an expert to review your claim and help you deal with your insurance company?

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