Safety in Mediation

A colleague recently did a business mediation here in Michigan where he discovered after the fact that both parties were carrying concealed weapons. As this becomes more commonplace in the U.S., it behooves us as mediators to do what we can to ensure party safety in mediation.

One way to ensure that no one brings a gun to a mediation is to conduct all mediations in the courthouse. But, given courts’ locations, limited space and hours of operation, this may not be practical or convenient. And guns and other weapons are just one component of safety concerns in mediation.

Michigan’s Mediator Standards of Conduct encourage mediators to screen for the presence of any impediment that would make mediation unsafe, including separate meetings with each party prior to a joint session. (Standard VI.A.1.) Our State Court Administrative Office has developed a pre-mediation screening protocol for use in domestic relations mediations, to assist mediators in eliciting any factors that would cause the mediator to take precautions such as avoiding joint session, or to avoid mediation altogether. While pre-mediation screening is required in domestic relations cases (MCL 600.1035), it is prudent in all cases. We tend to think that violence is more likely in domestic mediations, but the worst case involving guns and mediation was a triple homicide that occurred after a business mediation. One party left the building, went to his car to retrieve his gun, and returned just in time to gun down the other party and his lawyer as they were exiting the building; the gunman later killed himself. Another murder happened after a probate mediation. Screening for weapons needs to be augmented by other safety measures, and needs to be considered in every case.

Professor Kristen Blankley, at University of Nebraska’s College of Law, has written a practical summary of steps mediators can take, prior to and during the mediation, to try to protect both parties and the mediator. They include everything from knowing where the exits are to arranging for co-mediation. Her recommendations will benefit every mediator who reads them.

Screening and other safety steps, while not perfect, can help participants stay safe as they work out resolutions to their conflicts in mediation.

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