Washington Case Law Update: Post-Arbitration Sanctions Are Not Considered When Determining Whether a Party Improved its Position at Trial De Novo

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Washington Case Update: Post-Arbitration Sanctions Are Not Considered When Determining Whether a Party Improved its Position at Trial De Novo

From the desk of Kyle Riley: Under Washington’s mandatory arbitration rules, the trial court “shall” assess costs and reasonable attorney fees against a party who appeals the mandatory arbitration award and fails to improve its position at trial. But when a party has been sanctioned during the trial de novo process, should the trial court consider those sanctions when evaluating whether a party has improved its position? Read on to find out.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a car accident, the Washington Court of Appeals held that the trial court should not have considered the sanctions it imposed against one of the parties during trial de novo when evaluating whether that party improved its position. The case further clarifies how courts evaluate whether a party has improved its position at trial de novo following mandatory arbitration, an important consideration for insurers and attorneys.

Hedger v. Groeschell, No. 74149-7-I, Washington Court of Appeals, Div. I (May 15, 2017)

Maria Hedger (“Hedger”) and Lisa Groeschell (“Groeschell”) were involved in a car accident in September 2013. Hedger was proceeding straight through the intersection as Groeschell started to make a left turn, and the two vehicles collided. Hedger sued Groeschell for negligence, and the case proceeded to mandatory arbitration where the arbitrator found Groeschell to be entirely at fault and awarded Hedger $17,880.10 in damages. The arbitrator later amended the award to include an additional $931.76 in statutory costs and fees, bringing the total award to $18,811.86.

Groeschell requested a trial de novo. Prior to trial, the trial court sanctioned Groeschell for failing to participate in good faith in the mediation and failing to timely disclose expert witness reports. Then, a few days before trial, Groeschell raised a new...

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