Pa. arbitration bill opposed by trial lawyers

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A bill that would change the state's arbitration laws for the first time in more than 30 years has drawn the support of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, but has been met with opposition from the Pennsylvania Association for Justice trial lawyers group.

The PBA says the measure would streamline arbitration procedures, while trial lawyers argue that it would give arbitrators equal powers to judges.

Among other criticisms, the trial lawyers say the bill threatens to limit parties' ability to appeal decisions through a grant of immunity to arbitrators and a "loser-pays" rule in litigation to enforce or vacate arbitrators' awards. Mark Phenicie, legislative counsel for PAJ, argued it's unnecessary, "an answer searching for a problem."

Backers of the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act, including PBA President Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr., say the law would pull together the disparate threads of state procedural arbitration rules into a single workable body. The House passed a similar bill unanimously in its last session, but it stalled in the Senate.

The proposed legislation would: require arbitrators to disclose conflicts of interest to lawyers and parties; require third parties to provide discovery; and codify that arbitrators, just like judges, would have immunity for their decision-making.

"The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws is recommending some revisions and their revisions all seem to make sense in Pennsylvania," said state Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland, the primary sponsor.

The changes are designed to unify all of Pennsylvania's procedures for arbitration, such as how to proceed with arbitration, how to secure an arbitration award and how to challenge an arbitration award, said Mr. Wilkinson.

"It does not undermine substantive rights, including the existing right to a jury trial or the existing right to challenge the enforceability of an arbitration agreement," he said.

Mr. Phenicie said the legislation is a "wholesale rewrite of the Uniform Arbitration Act."

legalnews

Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com.


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