Document Type

Symposia Article


At the time of this Article, at least twelve large wildfires are burn- ing in California across more than 1,000 square miles, having damaged or destroyed over 2,000 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). At least eight people have lost their lives. The Kilauea volcano continues to erupt in Hawaii, having destroyed 600 homes. The 2018 hurricane season is in full swing, and while there have been no catastrophic events to date, residents in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere are still recovering from the devastating winds and rains wrought by Har- vey, Maria, and Irma last year. Those hurricanes are estimated to have caused more than $200 billion in damages, making the 2017 hurricane season the costliest in U.S. history. Around the world, natural disasters such as deadly heat waves, flooding, mudslides, hurricanes, and tornadoes will cause untold losses as temperatures across the globe are rising.

After the smoke clears, the ash settles, the waters subside, and initial recovery efforts restore basic functions like the delivery of food, water, and electricity, survivors face the task of rebuilding. Inevitably, property and business owners either look to their insurance carriers for relief or initiate tort actions against alleged wrongdoers. In 2007, more than 2,000 law suits were filed against San Diego Gas & Electric following a series of wildfires that engulfed San Diego County in California, where faulty power lines were blamed for some of the fires. Dozens of cases have been filed in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California relating to the deadly Thomas Fire and related devastating mudslides that killed twenty people and destroyed hundreds of homes late last year.

Traditional litigation used to resolve these disputes has the potential to overwhelm the courts, consume limited resources of insurance carriers and others, and be unduly burdensome to survivors. Alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) mechanisms such as mediation can offer significant relief to the parties, permitting them to negotiate a resolution in a less formal setting than the courthouse, and usually within a shorter time frame than typical litigation would require. In situations where a mass disaster does not easily lend itself to individual mediations, however, providers can customize the process to ensure that all parties—those parties that have suffered losses, insurance carriers, and potentially responsible parties—experience a fair, economic, and efficient resolution. National ADR providers such as JAMS and the American Arbitration Association offer comprehensive, customized processes that can be tailored to meet the needs of the parties and the unique requirements of each case. Individual mediators around the country routinely provide assistance with ADR process design for complex, multi-party matters. Some examples follow.

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