In Washington State, there are two levels of trial courts that both have jurisdiction in personal injury claims. Washington District Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and can hear personal injury cases where the total amount claimed is up to $100,000. Washington State Superior Courts also have jurisdiction in personal injury cases, but there is no limit to the amount that can be claimed in Superior Courts.
Arbitration is Mandatory In Certain Cases
To save on Court resources and time, Washington Superior Courts require arbitration in civil cases where the amount claimed is below a certain amount. For cases filed before September 1, 2018, this amount was $50,000. By legislation passed in 2018, Washington counties were authorized to increase this limit to $100,000 for cases filed after September 1, 2018. Clark County has increased its mandatory arbitration limit to $100,000.
In Clark County, a case is transferred to arbitration through a statement of arbitrability. The parties can then stipulate to an arbitrator, or go through a process by which one is appointed for them. Once the case is transferred to arbitration, the arbitrator hears the case and decides the issues of liability for the incident and the amount of damages resulting from it. The rules of evidence are relaxed in an arbitration. The parties may submit sworn statements or reports instead of live testimony by witnesses. Consequently, arbitrating a case is much less expensive than trying it to a jury and has the potential to resolve the case in a much shorter time than it would take to do so through a jury trial.
Appeal From Arbitration
However, a party that is not happy with an a court mandated arbitration award is entitled to appeal from the award. If the award is appealed, the case proceeds to trial as if the arbitration never happened and at trial the jury is not told about the arbitration award. But to encourage parties to accept an arbitration award and not appeal from it, the rules provide that if a party appeals from an award but fails to do better than the award at trial, the appealing party must pay the other side’s attorney fees and costs after the arbitration. These attorney fees may be substantial.