Construction disputes in California and around the country can be ruinously expensive and damage reputations that contractors have spent decades building, but they are often settled quickly and inexpensively when the parties involved are open to alternative forms of dispute resolution. Even those who genuinely believe that talks are at loggerheads and further negotiations would be pointless may find that they have little choice in the matter; judges may refuse to allow construction disputes to proceed to court until all possible avenues to a settlement have been explored.
While court proceedings and traditional negotiations are inherently adversarial, alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration and mediation take a more cooperative approach. Construction disputes are often rooted in miscommunication and misunderstanding, and the input of a neutral third party may sometimes help even the most belligerent of litigants to see things from a different perspective.
Mediation, adjudication and arbitration are all designed to resolve disputes amicably and avoid the costs and risks of civil litigation, but mediators have very different roles to adjudicators and arbitrators. Mediators are seasoned negotiators who help disputing parties to find common ground and resolve their differences, but they do not make binding decisions. Arbitrators and adjudicators are often experts with decades of experience, and the decisions they make are usually enforceable in court. While pursuing mediation is usually far less expensive than taking civil cases to court, the costs of arbitration and adjudication are sometimes as high as litigation.
Attorneys with business litigation experience may encourage construction companies and their clients to include mediation clauses in their contracts to prevent minor disagreements from spiraling into prolonged legal battles. Attorneys may also suggest that clients read construction contracts carefully before signing them to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of all of the parties involved are clear and understood.