This is a comprehensive study of a court-ordered mediation pilot program. The program operates in 13 counties, four of which were analyzed intensively for this study. The study looked at participation rates, settlement rates, satisfaction and cost savings to litigants. It found that the program achieved its goals of greater efficiency and satisfaction to some extent, but not as much as its proponents may have hoped. It recommends that the court system consider making participation in mediation happen more often and more quickly.
Description of Study: Looked at efficiency and satisfaction issues in a statewide civil case pilot program in North Carolina, with in-depth analysis of mediation in Cumberland, Forsyth, Guilford and Surry Counties.
Method: All counties with programs were included in the study. Four were researched in depth, including data from court records, litigants, and attorneys. Three of these counties had random assignment to either a mediation group or to a control group that was excluded from mediation. Additional comparison was made with a pre-program group of civil cases. In another nine counties, researchers established trends in disposition times and jury trial rates.
Comparison Groups: Those cases eligible for mediation (mediation group) and those that were not (control group). Both were compared to a pre-program group. 49% of cases in the mediation group were mediated.
Sample Size: 254 cases in the mediation group, 244 cases in the control group, and 243 cases in the pre-program group
Variables Examined: Case outcomes, disposition time, settlement/trial rate, judge time, satisfaction, litigant time and costs, compliance with the settlement, attorney attitudes
Program Variables: Voluntary program, but judge could mandate mediation for specific cases. Professional mediators paid for off-site sessions. Judge referred cases. Party participation in sessions was voluntary. At the time of study, the program had been in place for 2 years.
Findings: Processing time decreased seven weeks with mediation. The trial rate was not affected. Parties appear to have saved some money with mediation. (For plaintiffs, average attorney fees and costs were $6,716 in mediation, $9,667 for conventional settlement, and $30,146 for trial; for defendants, the averages were $4,507, $8,702, and $13,238, respectively.) Perception of fairness of and satisfaction with the process was positive over all for those who participated in the mediation sessions (most did not), but not different from adjudication participants. Perception of fairness of and satisfaction with the mediation outcome was negative over all, and was lower for defendant mediation participants than defendant adjudication participants (plaintiffs’ perception of fairness was the same for both processes).