For nearly 40 years, mandatory arbitration has existed in Washington State as an alternative to trial in superior court. Civil cases must go through the mandatory arbitration route when the injured party is seeking a money judgment under a certain amount. RCW 7.06.020. This amount has changed throughout the years. Initially, the claim had to be less than $10,000. It has since increased in increments up to $50,000, where it remained for the past 13 years – until now. As of September 1, 2018, all civil actions in superior court that seek damages up to $100,000 are subject to mandatory arbitration.
Mandatory arbitration was created in 1979 with the purpose “to provide a simplified and economical procedure for obtaining the prompt and equitable resolution of disputes.” RCW 7.06; LMAR 1.1. Courts have further indicated that mandatory arbitration serves to alleviate court congestion and reduce the delay in hearing civil cases. Christie-Lambert Van & Storage Co. v. McLeod, 39 Wn. App. 298, 302, 693 P.2d 161 (1984). It was designed to take relatively smaller and less complicated cases off the superior court’s docket and resolve them quickly and inexpensively. Mercier v. GEICO Indem. Co., 139 Wn. App. 891, 899, 165 P.3d 375 (2007).
Mandatory arbitration is held in front of an arbitrator, who is typically an attorney or former judge. Mandatory arbitration limits the amount of discovery in a case, and therefore the time, cost and expenses connected with discovery. MAR 4.2. Further, the amount of time to the hearing before an arbitrator is substantially reduced to a couple months. MAR 5.1. Cases in superior court generally do not get to trial until 12 months after filing a lawsuit. LCR 4 (Official comment 1(a)). During a hearing before the arbitrator, each party will have the opportunity to present its case and the arbitrator makes a ruling. If no party appeals this ruling to superior court within 20 days, the arbitration award becomes the final judgment. MAR 6.3.
Plaintiffs’ firms have advocated for an increase in the mandatory arbitration limit for years. We are pleased with this increase as it provides a mechanism for swift relief for more of our clients, and avoids the onerous time and expense of a full trial. This is especially true for smaller cases, where a full trial would be economically inefficient. Overall, the increase in the mandatory arbitration limit will help more of our clients obtain speedy resolutions of their claims, enabling them to move forward with their lives.