ATLANTA, Oct. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- An average of 62,500 civil lawsuits are filed in Georgia state courts each month – or almost 750,000 annually. This high volume elevates Georgia to a fifth place ranking for civil lawsuits among all states according to the National Center for State Courts. "And that doesn't include federal court filings," says Bill Adams, president of Georgia's chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution (www.acrga.net). "Nor does it include disputes resolved with the help of a mediator or an arbitrator as a way to avoid court."
Adams says that our culture's first response to tragedy is to find someone to blame. "Our judicial system is the best in the world and it's designed to be a forum of last resort," says Adams. "Unfortunately, too many people think of it as their first resort instead."
Supporting the Association's mission, Governor Sonny Perdue has designated Saturday, October 16th as Conflict Resolution Day – to encourage Georgians to look to other, lower cost, and non-litigation alternatives to conflict resolution.
According to the Association, conflict resolution usually involves either a mediator or an arbitrator, depending on how both parties agree to resolve the dispute. A mediator is a specially trained professional in resolving conflicts and guides both parties in a voluntary conversation to bring out real issues and find creative solutions. A mediator does not make final decisions. On the other hand, an arbitrator is like having a private judge. Each party presents their case, and the arbitrator decides what to do – although it can be binding or non-binding as agreed.
Mediation is conducted with or without attorneys present. When attorneys are not present, people often reserve the right to have the agreement reviewed by an attorney. In arbitration, however, each party is generally represented by an attorney from the outset.
"Mediation provides a quick, confidential and relatively inexpensive way to resolve conflict without putting it in the hands of a third party," Adams explains. "In binding arbitration, both parties agree in advance to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator."
The Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution (www.godr.org), set up at the direction of the Georgia Supreme Court, reports that 178,000 cases have been resolved since 1997 through an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system. Nearly every court system in Georgia has an ADR program designed to "provide for the speedy, efficient, and inexpensive resolution of disputes and prosecutions in the judiciary." This system gives Georgia litigants lower cost choices for resolving differences while helping save scarce court resources for those cases that cannot be resolved without judge or jury.
Adams emphasizes the importance of finding ways to solve conflicts without seeking professional help, much less filing a civil suit. He names three ways to approach resolution before taking things to court.
"Forgiveness is one way," he says. "You may feel wronged, but in stopping to consider the real impact, you may see the offense is not serious enough to fight over. Seeking redress can damage relationships, and that may be far more important than the wrong done. If you resolve not to carry bitterness or a grudge, you will find that the healing of relationships that comes from forgiveness can be amazing."
Open discussion is another way to resolve conflict. "Consider going to the person who offended you, tell them about it, and ask to talk. They may not even know they offended you and apologize," says Adams. "You may be surprised by what you learn in listening to the other person's side of the story," he adds. "Be honest, but not angry. Discuss the effects of the offense on both of you financially and emotionally and say you want reconciliation. Then brainstorm with the other person about how to accomplish that."
A third way comes closest to mediation. "Get help from a friend," Adams says. "Sometimes there is a mutual friend whom you both trust. That person may be willing to serve as an intermediary, talking to you and the other person about the dispute and how to resolve it. Such a friend can also be valuable by being present during discussions to accurately remember what is said and help keep your discussion on track."
"Although we may not have a choice about being involved in a dispute," says Adams, "we can make a conscious choice about how to deal with it."
The Georgia Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution (www.acrga.net) is an organization of conflict resolution specialists dedicated to promoting alternative dispute resolution in our society. For more information about this organization, visit www.acrga.net.
SOURCE The Georgia Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution