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In this paper disputes are seen as varying along a dimension of admitted liability, that is, the extent to which defendants admit some obligation to plaintiffs; they may admit no liability, partial liability, or full liability. This conceptualization was used in an empirical study of a small claims court. The results paint a portrait of the court that is at variance with most of the previous literature. Consumer issues constitute a substantial portion of the court caseload. On average, defendants, including individual consumers, do well when they dispute claims. Among disputed cases, small rather than large businesses predominate. Prior literature has suggested that, in comparison to adjudication, mediation of claims produces compromise outcomes and higher rates of compliance. This research shows that mediation yields a large percentage of all-or-none results, but to the extent that there is compromise and compliance, it can be partly ascribed to admitted liability characteristics. Some data on defaulted cases are also presented.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Liability (Law), Small claims courts, Mediation, Empirical

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