Illinois Supreme Court Rule 86(b) is the controlling authority that orders cases claiming exclusive money damages be sent to non-binding mandatory arbitration. Currently, the Illinois Supreme Court designates cases that have claimed damages under $30,000.00 for mandatory arbitration; however, depending on the county, there are further triggering aspects of litigation such as the filing of a jury demand. Once a jury demand is filed, the case will be on track for mandatory arbitration. The mandatory arbitration program was designed to reduce the number of jury trials and as a means for parties to better evaluate a case before expending time and costs prior to trial.
Following service and pleadings in a case, you will have at least sixty days to prepare before your arbitration date, should damages fall under the small claims threshold of $10,000.00. If damages exceed $10,000.00, the court will set a discovery closure date of approximately 120 days to allow the parties to engage in oral and written discovery. Following closure of discovery in either situation, the question becomes how to prepare for mandatory arbitration.
As Illinois Supreme Court Rule 86(e) instructs, the Illinois Supreme Court Rules of Evidence and the Code of Civil Procedure do apply to mandatory arbitration proceedings. The following rules, while not exhaustive, further explore how to successfully present your case before an arbitration panel and avoid mistakes that can stop your case in its tracks, before it leaves the station.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 90
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 90 describes the conduct of arbitration hearings and provides guidelines that, if used effectively, can present your case in the time allotted. The maximum time for the hearing is two hours unless there is a court-ordered extension prior to the hearing.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 90(c) allows for documents such as repair and medical bills (paid and unpaid), valuations, medical records, expert reports, and any other document otherwise admissible under the rules of evidence, be sent to all parties at least thirty days before the hearing. By sending this Rule 90(c) packet, a party can forego the need for laying a foundation for the evidence at the hearing. Rule 90(c) saves time and costs by alleviating the need to have record keepers, medical treaters, experts and so on from appearing and testifying at the hearing.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 237(b)
Upon sending notice, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 237(b) requires the appearance of a party or person at the time of the hearing who is an officer or employee of the party. Parties usually send such a notice along with the aforementioned Rule 90(c) packet. The rationale for sending such a notice varies, but it is likely you will need testimony from an adverse witness in order to effectively present your case. Another important aspect of Rule 237(b) is failure to appear pursuant to the notice, which carries the potential for hefty sanctions such as:
- the non-appearing party being barred from rejecting the arbitration award;
- the non-appearing party being barred from testifying at any future hearing or trial;
- the potential exposure to monetary sanctions.
For this reason, it is imperative insureds and parties, unless previously excused by agreement or court order, appear for arbitrations. Otherwise, you run the risk of your case coming to a screeching halt.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the court appointed arbitrators draft an award. Upon entry of the award, either party has thirty days to accept the award and allow judgment to enter or pay a fee to reject the award, sending the case to a jury trial.