US Mediation Leader Supports NZ Disaster Mediation Centre

US Mediation Leader Supports NZ Disaster Mediation Centre 2
US Mediation Leader Supports NZ Disaster Mediation Centre 3

One of the most experienced mediators in the United States, Lee Jay Berman, has expressed his support for the establishment in New Zealand of a disaster mediation centre that can mediate issues following a disaster.

Mr Berman spoke to LawFuel after the AMINZ conference in Wellington this weekend, explaining that the ability to deal with issues in the weeks following a disaster was far preferable than having the huge financial and emotional cost of litigation.

The United States has the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),  which is a division of the Department of Homeland Security and which provides financial and physical assistance to those affected by a disaster.

In May this year the government launched an insurance tribunal to resolve outstanding Earthquake Commission (EQC) claims, along with a public inquiry to help resolve unsettled residential insurance claims, a move that AMINZ Executive Director said was a necessity for New Zealand and should have been set up to deal with the Christchurch earthquakes.

In August this year the government introduced legislation for an insurance tribunal to resolve outstanding Earthquake Commission (EQC) claims.  It includes arbitration and mediation to resolve unsettled residential insurance claims.  A disaster mediation scheme is a move that AMINZ Executive Director said was a necessity for New Zealand and should have been set up to deal with the Christchurch earthquakes.

The government has also said it will launch an enquiry into the way in which EQC dealt with claims.

Mr Berman has mediated thousands of disputes and also founded the American Institute of Mediation, having handled disputes ranging from Fortune 500 companies and rock bands to governments and family disputes.

“The sooner we can resolve (disputes) the better for everyone,” he said. “As a mediator I would rather have the information before me in the first weeks rather than a year later when all the discovery has been done and
litigation has spent huge sums.”

Mr Berman, who was brought to New Zealand by the New Zealand Law Foundation, was impressed with the quality of mediators and mediation training in New Zealand noting that while there were some differences between US and New Zealand mediators, the differences generally lay in New Zealand’s favour.

In his Los Angeles home town he says the courts tended to use mediators in a ‘fire hose’ manner that did not necessarily involve the sort of success that mediation could produce.

Mediation Misconception

He also pointed out one of the major misconceptions of what a mediator was.

“The biggest misconception about mediation and mediators is that people judge them by what their career was before they became mediators. It truly is its own practice area.”

Not a lawyer himself, he has nonetheless become one of the best known US mediators and someone trusted to mediate some of the most vexed issues that have arisen in commercial and personal disputes, involving corporations, celebrities and others.

New Zealand’s Mediation Role

He is a strong supporter of New Zealand playing a key role in the international mediations, an issue that Helen Clark spoke about at the AMINZ conference.

“New Zealand feels neutral and accepting of everyone, unswayed by culture or politics,” he said.  It has played a major role on the world stage and he would personally prefer to mediate a complex issue here than in many other countries for those reasons.

“I think there’s an elevated cultural understanding that is quite different in the US, for instance.”

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