Commonly Asked Questions on Compulsory Arbitration
1. How can I become an arbitrator?
The manager of the arbitration center, Joseph Hassett, Esq., maintains a list of attorneys who have been deemed to be qualified to sit as an Arbitrator in Philadelphia County. The minimum criteria for qualification to be an Arbitrator in Philadelphia includes: (1) membership of the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; (2) active practice of law for a minimum of one year subsequent to admission to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for panelists (five years to sit as the Chairperson); (3) maintenance of a principal office in Philadelphia County; (4) trial of a case in any forum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (5) attendance of a court approved arbitration seminar that indicates that it serves the purpose of allowing an individual to sit as an Arbitrator. An individual who wishes to sit as an arbitrator may also, in lieu of actually attending the Compulsory Arbitration Seminar, purchase a videotape of the seminar, and thereafter provide the Arbitration Center with an affidavit that he or she has viewed the tape in its entirety.
An attorney who has satisfied the above requirements, and who wishes to sit as an Arbitrator, must then complete a Court supplied Application Form and turn it in to the Arbitration Center.
2. Can I get a continuance of my arbitration date? If so, how?
If a short continuance is needed, counsel may file a one time only application to reschedule an arbitration date at any time within two weeks of the original arbitration date. All counsel and unrepresented parties must agree on a new time and date, and sign the form entitled Compulsory Arbitration Application One-Time Only Rescheduling Agreement, which must be filed by noon two business days before the originally scheduled date.
Other than the one time two week extension, a request for a continuance of an Arbitration Hearing will only be granted for reasons set forth in Pa.R.C.P. 216. Philadelphia Civil Rule 1303(c) sets forth the procedures to be followed for continuances of arbitration cases in both non-emergency and emergency situations. Continuance requests must be in writing on a Continuance Arbitration Application and must be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope to counsel of record and any unrepresented party. The application must be filed with the Arbitration Center and contemporaneously delivered to the other parties in the same manner as the original filing. There is no hearing or oral argument on a Continuance Application, and the ruling is not subject to judicial scrutiny. Do not call or write to the Arbitration Center for the status of a Continuance Application or request Areconsideration@ if the request is denied.
3. What do I have to do if my case settles prior to the arbitration date?
When a case is settled prior to the arbitration date, counsel must notify the Arbitration Center in writing, via fax to (215) 686-9594, that the matter has been settled. A failure to notify the Arbitration Center may result in the entry of a judgment against the plaintiff and in favor of the defendant, if the plaintiff fails to appear, regardless of whether the defendant appears at the hearing or not.
4. Can I do anything if I disagree with a judicial decision to remand my case from major jury case to arbitration?
If you disagree with a judicial decision to remand a case from major jury to arbitration, you may request in writing that the Court reconsider its position. In your request, you should include any pieces of evidence, such as medical records, evidence of lost wages, or other losses which support your belief that the case has a value in excess of $50,000.
5. What if my client is served with the Complaint with only a few weeks left before the hearing?
A request for a continuance should be directed to the arbitration center. Continuances are granted at the discretion of the arbitration center manager.
6. What if a party fails to appear for an arbitration hearing?
If both a party and that party=s attorney fail to appear for a scheduled arbitration hearing, that case may be referred to a judge for a non-jury trial which would take place on the same day as the scheduled arbitration hearing. The court may hear the matter and enter a decision. Relief from the decision of the trial court can come only from an appeal to an appellate court, as there is no right to a trial de novo on appeal from a decision entered by a judge.
7. Can I file a Motion in Limine in an arbitration matter?
Motions in Limine can be used as a tool for only admitting evidence into Arbitration which would be admissible should the case be tried before a jury, thereby giving a more accurate indication of how a jury may respond to the claim. This can be done by notifying the clerk at the time that you check in for the Arbitration Hearing that you have a Motion in Limine that you would like to present to a panel. If possible, the arbitration center manager, will assign one panel to hear the Motion in Limine and then a second panel to hear the case once the Motion in Limine has been decided.
8. When should an arbitrator be disqualified to hear a particular case?
An attorney sitting as an Arbitrator should be guided by the Code of Judicial Conduct in determining whether there is a conflict or problem in deciding a case between particular parties. This duty includes the obligations to perform the duties of his or her office impartially and to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
9. What if a necessary witness fails to appear for an arbitration?
If the witness has been subpoenaed or served with a notice to attend, a continuance may be granted at the discretion of the arbitration center manager.
10. What if a witness requires an interpreter?
The party presenting the witness who requires an interpreter should arrange for the interpreter. Unless there is an agreement between all parties and counsel, the interpreter should not be related to any of the parties or witnesses or have an interest in the proceeding.
11. May I have a court reporter present for the arbitration?
Yes. The party or counsel who wishes to have a court reporter must arrange and pay for the reporter. That same court reporter may be retained by the opposing party, at its expense, to remain at the hearing for the recording of additional testimony.
12. May I have a witness sequestered during the hearing?
A request for sequestration of a witness should be directed to the Arbitration panel. The same rules for sequestration of a witness during a trial apply to an arbitration hearing.
13. Should I provide the members of the Arbitration panel with a brief?
As arbitration panels are often made up of attorneys who practice in a wide variety of specialties, it is a good practice to never assume that a particular issue will be obvious to all of the Arbitration panel members. As such, an arbitration brief which summarizes the relevant issues in a claim, along with the current status of the law on those issues, is often helpful to Arbitrators in deciding a case. Keep in mind, however, that any brief given to an Arbitration panel should be concise (no more than a few pages).
14. What if there is an error on the Report and Award Form of the Arbitrators?
If the error is a simple mistake, and all parties and counsel agree to the correction, at the discretion of the arbitration center manager, the Award may be modified before it is transmitted to the Prothonotary. If there is any disagreement between the parties or counsel as to the existence or extent of the error or remedy, the manager will not modify the Award. In such circumstances, the aggrieved party is advised to appeal the Award.
15. Are litigants allowed to speak with the Arbitrators regarding their final decision after the hearing?
A litigant who wishes to speak with an Arbitrator regarding a final decision after a hearing may do so only if that Arbitrator indicates a willingness to discuss the claim. If the Arbitrator indicates that he or she is unwilling to discuss a judicial decision, they should not be approached further by the litigant or his or her counsel. Should a party have a particularly difficult problem with an Arbitrator, they should address that concern with the Manager of the Arbitration Program.
16. How is appealing a consolidated case different than appealing a single case?
Under Pa.R.C.P. 1309, an appeal by any party in a particular action shall be deemed to be an appeal by all parties as to all issues unless otherwise stipulated in writing by all parties. Counsel should keep in mind, however, where cases have been consolidated for Trial and/or Discovery purposes, separate appeals must be filed with the Prothonotary pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1308. Additionally, the requisite fee must be paid for each of the cases that have been previously consolidated. Only those cases which are appealed will be scheduled for a de novo hearing. Awards in cases not appealed will become final upon expiration of the appeal time.