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Mediation and Adjudication in the Small Claims Court: The Effects of Process and Case Characteristics

NCJ Number
Law & Society Review Volume: 29 Issue: 2 Dated: (1995) Pages: 323-358
R L Wissler
Date Published
36 pages
Because research examining the relative effectiveness of mediation and adjudication has raised questions about whether apparent benefits of mediation can be attributed to differences in the two dispute resolution procedures or to differences in characteristics of disputes and disputants, this study assessed mediation and adjudication in four small claims courts in the Boston area.
All litigants whose cases were mediated or tried during a 5- month period were asked to participate in the study. A total of 281 litigants (175 plaintiffs and 106 defendants) involved in 221 different cases completed an interview. The cases fell into one of three resolution groups: 72 cases achieved an agreement in mediation; 53 cases went to trial after they were unable to reach a mediated agreement; and 96 cases had only a trial. Litigants were interviewed by telephone 6 to 12 weeks after their court date. It was found that disputes and disputants in mediation and adjudication differed on few attributes. The process, outcome, and impact of mediation and adjudication varied in ways generally consistent with theoretical differences. Although the degree of liability admitted by the defendant played a role, overall differences in the effectiveness of mediation and adjudication were due more to differences in processes than to differences in disputes and disputants. An appendix contains litigant descriptions and evaluations. 83 references, 45 footnotes, and 6 tables


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