What is a neutral case evaluation?

Neutral case evaluation is one of the three different forms of resolving civil disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution:

  • arbitration,
  • neutral case evaluation, and
  • mediation.

Neutral case evaluation is another form of Alternative Dispute Resolution that is designed to provide some guidance to the parties as to how their dispute may be resolved. A neutral case evaluator may be from any profession but most often is a lawyer or a judge. In a neutral case evaluation the parties may submit written and/or oral presentations to the evaluator as to the merits of their case. The neutral case evaluator may then ask for further explanations on certain issues, and then the neutral case evalu­ator will render a non-binding recommendation as to what the case is worth or how it should be resolved. For example, in injury cases, the evaluator may come up with a dollar amount value as to what the case is worth. In domestic relations cases, the evalu­ator may come up with a means of resolving a custody dispute dealing with the children. Likewise, in a domestic relations dis­pute, the evaluator may come up with a formula by which the marital property is to be divided.
Whatever evaluation is reached by the neutral case evaluator, it is purely a recommendation which is intended to serve as a guide to the parties in evaluating the case and hopefully reach­ing a settlement.

The idea of settlement sometimes is a difficult concept for non-lawyers to deal with. In general, a settlement is preferable to a court imposed decision. A settlement implies that the parties have reached some agreement that each of them can live with. A court imposed decision or verdict frequently is one that neither party is going to be happy with. Some cases, however, simply cannot be settled and therefore have to be presented to a judge or jury for resolution.

Neutral case evaluation is frequently a follow-up to media­tion. Mediation is conducted by a neutral mediator whose sole objective is to help the parties reach a settlement. Mediation is normally voluntary, i.e., either party can decide not to settle.

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