Expanded arbitration program will speed up outcomes for personal injury cases

Released On 06/11/2021

The Cook County Circuit Court has expanded a mandatory arbitration program to include hundreds of personal injury cases, which is expected to cut both costs and delays, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced on Friday. 


“This will eliminate delays and aid in the prompt administration of justice in these cases, allowing them to be disposed of more efficiently while reducing costs for litigants,” said Judge Evans. “Disposing of cases through this program will also free up valuable court time for more complex matters.” 


The new program will be used for cases with an estimated worth of between $30,000 to $50,000, though higher-value cases can qualify at a judge’s discretion, according to the Hon. Thomas Mulroy, who supervises the Law Division mandatory arbitration program. Auto crash cases will be the most common type of dispute referred to the program. 


If a judge refers a case for mandatory arbitration, the parties will have four months to complete discovery. The parties will then appear before an arbitrator who has expertise in the specific field of law involved. 


A litigant who is unsatisfied with the arbitrator’s decision may reject it, for a fee of $750. The fee goes to the State of Illinois, which funds arbitration programs across the state. If the litigant who rejected the arbitration decision then goes to trial and loses, that litigant must pay the other side’s attorney fees for the work on the arbitration. 


“Our hope is that the fee-shifting provision will increase the number of cases in which the arbitration decision is accepted,” Judge Mulroy said. 


In 2015, the Cook County Circuit Court instituted a similar arbitration program for commercial cases of up to $75,000 in value, or more at a judge’s discretion. Commercial cases include employment disputes, interference with business relationships and breach of contract cases. About 300 cases annually go to arbitration under this program. 


The fee-shifting provision for commercial cases has led to a low rate of rejection for arbitrator decisions, said Judge Mulroy. More than half of all cases that are referred to arbitration settle before the hearing, which contributes to the program’s success, Judge Mulroy said. 


“The longer a case goes on, the more it costs,” said Judge Mulroy. “People want their cases heard – they don’t want to wait for years. This is really a vehicle to get the parties together to start talking settlement. Nothing focuses the mind for lawyers like a trial date -- or an arbitration hearing date.” 


As many as 2,000 personal injury cases a year could be referred to the new arbitration program. The most common type of case which would qualify is auto crash litigation, which represents 9,400 of the 24,000 cases pending in the Law Division, or almost 40%. Cases involving asbestos, construction, medical malpractice, nursing home and product liability case are not eligible for the program, unless the parties agree to arbitration. 


Circuit Court judges adopted the personal injury mandatory arbitration program earlier this spring, and a training program for lawyers interested in being arbitrators will be held on July 22. Lawyers can contact Arbitration Administrator Kimberly O’Brien at (312) 793-0125 or at for more information. 




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