Call Your Carrier? Because of Negligent ADR Advocacy? YOU BETCHA!
That's not a summons and complaint for malpractice, is it? Because of something you didn't know about ADR advocacy?
C'mon! ADR is all about avoiding litigation, not creating it, right? The good news is that there hasn't yet been an ADR malpractice suit of note. The bad news is, I see ADR negligence at least once a month and am holding my breath against the day lawsuits began a'poppin.
To help you avoid ADR malpractice, here is just one of ten pitfalls to be covered in this series that can make you a malpractice magnet for disgruntled clients.
- write up a "term" sheet reflecting your mediated settlement agreement without including the "magic language" of Evidence Code section 1123
- absent this language, a party with buyer's remorse can resist the enforcement of a "term sheet" if he feels he was was coerced into signing it; entered into it based upon a misrepresentation of material fact made during the mediation; or, that it simply does not accurately reflect the terms the parties' orally agreed upon during the mediation
- use the magic language of Evidence Code section 1123 and your "term sheet" should be enforced and your client's bargaining partner precluded from introducing into evidence (pursuant to section 1119) any statement made by anyone during the course of the mediation, including allegedly coercive, misleading, or, fraudulent statements of fact allegedly inducing his consent.
- as Orange County mediator William J. Caplan points out in his lively 2005 article, The Quick Brown Lawyer Jumped Over the Mediation Traps, the "magic words" are “admissible,” “enforceable,” “binding,” and “subject to disclosure.”
- the cure (from Caplan again) is the following "belt and suspenders" clause:
The parties intend this Agreement to be admissible, binding and enforceable, and subject to disclosure within the meaning of those terms in California Evidence Code § 1123 (a), (b) and (c), and this Agreement is expressly not privileged from disclosure under California Evidence Code § 1119. In addition, if the formal Settlement and Mutual Release Agreement contemplated hereinabove is [e.g., not executed within ten (10) days of the date of this Agreement] this Agreement may be enforced by motion under California Civil Code § 664.6 and the court shall retain jurisdiction over this Agreement until performance in full of the settlement terms herein.
Below is an Orange County Superior Court form that satisfies the requirements of section 664.6 (providing an expedited enforcement mechanism for the settlement agreement) but which fails to recite all of the magic words including admissible, enforceable, and subject to disclosure. So please don't trust any form other than your own!! Even forms issued by the Courts. The fact that you are entitled to an expedited hearing under 664.6 to enforce your mediated settlement agreement does not mean that you will be permitted to enforce the agreement against your opponent's will.
Of course the best way to avoid claims arising from buyer's remorse is to create a durable settlement that all parties will want to enforce. That means avoiding agreements that your client enters into when he or she is hungry, angry, lonely (i.e., sidelined) or tired (HALT). It also includes agreements that feel coerced by an overly aggressive mediator preying on the weaker of the two (or three or four) parties. And yes, Virginia, there is always a more vulnerable party; all mediators recognize who that is; and, too many mediators make a beeline for that party's soft under-belly.
Another way to avoid challenges to the mediated settlement agreement include:
- bringing a fillable template settlement agreement (and these days, also a Stipulation for the Entry of Judgment in the event of default on a payment plan) that is a complete, final and binding agreement that contains the "magic language" of section 1123 that all parties execute before they leave the mediation session (no matter how tired everyone is and how much everybody wants to just go home and deal with the inevitable nit-picking over the relatively inconsequential terms of the agreement tomorrow).
- not letting your fear that the "details" might blow up the "deal" you've spent so many hours negotiating. You know how these deals go off the rails the following morning when your opponent begins to nit pick terms, often as a face-saving mechanism. Let the mediator help you close the deal right there and now, assisting the parties in resolving the minor terms that can blow up in your face if left until tomorrow.
And speaking of tomorrow, I'll have Tip No. 2 for avoiding malpractice litigation arising from mediated settlement agreements. Stay tuned!
For more posts on confidentiality in both California state and 9th Circuit district courts, click here.