The Mandatory Arbitration Program was approved by the Illinois Supreme Court in January 1990 as a joint effort of the judiciary, attorneys and public to help resolve disputes in a more efficient way. The Cook County Mandatory Arbitration Program resolves approximately fifty percent of cases before they reach a jury trial.
The court uses mandatory arbitration for certain types of small civil cases in which the plaintiff is seeking only money. The objective of the program is to enable the parties to quickly resolve their dispute, without resorting to a formal trial with a judge or jury, through the use of high-quality, economical hearings.
A mandatory arbitration hearing is a legal proceeding held before a panel of three Illinois-licensed attorneys (called "arbitrators") who have taken a court certified arbitrator training program. The hearing is conducted like a trial where the parties may be represented by an attorney, or they may represent themselves. The arbitrators act in place of a judge and render a decision (called "award") at the conclusion of the hearing.
If one of the parties disagrees with the award, that party may file a rejection within 30 days of the arbitration hearing. Unless a party is indigent, there is a $200 fee paid to the Clerk of the Circuit Court at the time of filing a rejection. The case is then assigned to a trial room and the dispute will be heard in court before a judge and jury.
The Cook County Mandatory Arbitration Program is governed by Illinois Supreme Court Rules 86 to 95 and corresponding local Circuit Court Rule 18. These rules identify: types of actions subject to mandatory arbitration, arbitrator qualifications and compensation, presumptively admissible evidence, as well as the making and rejecting of an award.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 86(e) states that the Code of Civil Procedure applies to all arbitration cases. Motions at the pretrial stage, for example, are raised and decided in the same way as non-arbitration cases. Rule 88 provides that all arbitration cases must have a hearing within one year of the date the case was filed. Faster resolutions of cases are possible because the parties are assured that an arbitration date will be set quickly and that the arbitration hearing will take place on that date, unless precluded by unusual circumstances. Rule 89 mandates that all discovery shall be completed prior to the arbitration hearing.
All personal injury actions, as well as property damage and breach of contract actions (where a jury demand has been filed) seeking only money damages of $30,000 or less (exclusive of interest and costs) are assigned by a judge to the Mandatory Arbitration Program. (See Circuit Court Rule 18.3). Most cases transferred to arbitration are from the Municipal Department.
A Law Division case may be transferred by a judge to the Municipal Department at a status call or pretrial conference if the court determines that no claim in the action has a value in excess of $30,000, irrespective of defenses. A party may also amend the damages to less than $30,000 to qualify for arbitration.
A Chancery Division case may be transferred to the Municipal Department if the equitable relief has been disposed and the only remaining issues are claims for money damages under $30,000.
Arbitration hearings are not recorded; however, a party may make a stenographic record of the proceeding at their own expense. (See Circuit Court Rule 18.6(b)). Parties are also required to provide foreign language interpreters if necessary.
A hearing will last a maximum of two hours, unless the Supervising Judge for Arbitration has granted a party's request for additional time. Parties are allowed a fifteen (15) minute grace period before the arbitration panel proceeds with the hearing.
After the parties have presented their cases, the panel of arbitrators will deliberate for no longer than 30 minutes and make a written award. An award is determined by the majority of the three-member arbitration panel. If a two-member panel heard the case (by stipulation of the litigants) and cannot agree on an outcome, the chairperson's decision will prevail. Any dissenting panelist may sign without comment in the space provided on the award form.
At the conclusion of deliberations, the arbitration panel will give the award to an arbitration office staff. A staff member will permit the parties to see the award as soon as it is tendered by the arbitrators.
The arbitration office staff are not permitted give either party a copy of the award on the date of the arbitration. Instead, the parties will receive a copy of the award in the
U. S. Mail from the Clerk of the Circuit Court's office. If a party does not receive a copy of the award, he or she should call the Clerk's office to inquire.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 93 allows a party to reject an arbitration award if the rejection is filed within 30 days of the arbitration hearing and if the party pays a $200 fee to the Clerk of the Circuit Court. The fee is intended to discourage frivolous rejections.
A court, however, may enter an order debarring a party from rejecting an award if that party failed to participate in the hearing in good faith (see Illinois Supreme Court Rule 91(b)) or as a sanction for violating other applicable rules.
If no rejection is filed within 30 days of the arbitration hearing or if the party is debarred from rejecting the award, the arbitration award may be entered as a judgment of the court, terminating the case.