What is Neutral Evaluation?
Neutral Evaluation is an alternative dispute resolution process where parties make presentations to an evaluator, an attorney with specific subject matter expertise. The evaluator then gives a non-binding, confidential opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of each party's case and the likely range of damages. The parties then have the opportunity to discuss settlement or use the evaluation for further negotiations.
Parties often use the evaluator's opinion as a basis for trying to negotiate a resolution of the dispute on their own or with the help of a mediator. See the Court's list of trained neutral evaluators.
Neutral evaluation is most useful in cases with technical issues that require special expertise to resolve and is different than Arbitration because it happens sooner in the trial process, before costly discovery.
Why use Neutral Evaluation?
Neutral evaluation provides a knowledgeable opinion of the case. It is a useful tool in helping attorneys predict how a judge, or jury, might decide on certain issues or the case as a whole. If there are many sub-issues in the case, mediation might a better alternative dispute resolution process to use.
Which cases qualify for Neutral Evaluation?
All types of general civil cases qualify for neutral evaluation. Neutral Evaluation is best used when both sides are represented by attorneys. In some circumstances the hearing judge may order the case into judicial arbitration -- a more formal type of hearing -- if he or she thinks the case would benefit more from the arbitration process. Parties can request neutral evaluation as an alternative to judicial arbitration.
Who are the Neutral Evaluators?
All of the neutral evaluators in Stanislaus County are local attorneys with at least ten years experience in civil law. All of the evaluators are trained in neutral evaluation and mediation.
Who pays for Neutral Evaluation?
The parties pay the neutral evaluator directly. Neutral evaluators set their own fees and it is the responsibility of the parties to contract the neutral evaluator, find out the cost and arrange payment before the neutral evaluation begins.
Entering the Court's Neutral Evaluation Program
About 120 days after the complaint is filed, the lawyers will meet at a Case Management Conference (CMC) with the hearing judge. At the first CMC, the judge will ask the lawyers if the parties are willing to participate in alternative dispute resolution.
If both sides agree they may volunteer for neutral evaluation even if the hearing judge does not order it by filling out a Stipulation and Order to ADR (STAN 100) and filing it with the Court. Before the form can be submitted the neutral evaluator and the opposing side must sign the form to notify the Court that all parties agree to neutral evaluation.
When will Neutral Evaluation begin?
Once a neutral evaluator is selected, the neutral evaluation session will be scheduled at a time that is convenient for all parties. The neutral evaluation process must be completed at least 60 days before the scheduled settlement conference.
What if Neutral Evaluation is Unsuccessful?
A neutral evaluator does not make a decision in the case as in arbitration. The neutral evaluator gives an evaluation based on knowledge, experience and training. The parties have the option to use the evaluation however they see fit. The parties may use the evaluation as a basis for settlement discussions or they may proceed on the regular scheduled court calendar to the settlement conference or to trial.
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