There is a puzzling disconnect in the world of mediation. Some insurers routinely fly adjusters across the country to attend mediations. Others seek telephonic participation wherever possible. Puzzling further, is the practice of some insurance carriers who insist on sending an adjuster to observe a jury trial from start to finish, having earlier refused to allow that same adjuster to travel to a mediation that well might have resolved the case.
What is going on and why?
The explanation seems to trace to a contrarian attitude still found in some claims departments that mediations are a court-mandated headache that gets in the way of important work that needs to be done in the office. Some carriers continue to view mediation as a necessary evil as opposed to an opportunity to resolve claims and close out files. In my view, they have this completely backward.
Those of us who mediate know that personal participation increases resolution rates. That alone should be enough to encourage personal attendance. But the reasons to attend mediations in person go further.
Often, adjusters have not had a chance to meet claimants to size them up as potential witnesses. Mediation creates that opportunity.
Personal attendance also allows claims adjusters to:
Interact with all parties to the mediation;
Communicate that the case is being taken seriously by both the insurer and counsel;
Assess the effectiveness of counsel in presenting the claimant’s case;
Use their knowledge of the file to help out counsel and the mediator;
Work as a team with defense counsel;
Provide a separate set of eyes and a separate perspective as negotiations unfold; and
React nimbly to what is taking place during the mediation.
While many courts encourage or require personal attendance of decision makers at mediations, those rules should not be the driving force here. Insurance carriers who are serious about effective claims handling should be present during of the single-most important day in the life of a lawsuit -- not the day a case goes to the jury, but the day when the claim can resolve at mediation without a trial.
The investment in time and effort is worth the price. If you have doubts, just ask a mediator.