February 7, 2008
Maritime Arbitration Group Offers Dispute Resolution
Special to the Business Report & Journal
The maritime industry now has a new alternative for resolving disputes without going to court.
A consortium of leading maritime attorneys recently launched the Maritime Arbitration Association of the United States (MAA), the first national organization offering arbitration and mediation services to the maritime industry. Robert S. Glenn, Jr., a maritime mediator, arbitrator and partner at the law firm of HunterMaclean in Savannah, helped launch the organization last year.
The MAA can help resolve disputes at 25 major active ports and boating centers nationwide. Companies doing business at the Port of Savannah, which is the fourth busiest container port in the United States, can now choose to work with the organization’s attorneys to resolve maritime disputes.
“Arbitration has been a well-established part of the maritime industry for years,” said Glenn, who serves on the MAA’s National Advisory Board. “Our association is made up of lawyers, all of whom have at least 15 years of maritime law practice and have been trained as arbitrators.”
Arbitration and mediation have deep roots in the maritime arena. After World War I, Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act to encourage arbitration. In the 1980s, when fear of a litigation explosion took hold, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a strong federal policy favoring arbitration. A recent interest in returning to the benefits of arbitration – notably the desire to save costs by resolving U.S. disputes locally – led to the formation of the MAA.
In arbitration, an impartial person reviews the dispute and issues a final and binding decision that is enforceable in court. In mediation, an impartial person guides the parties to an agreed settlement. A typical dispute might involve a vessel owner with a complaint against a repair yard. Glenn said that by using an arbitrator who is well-versed in the industry, the disputers can argue their case without having to first educate a jury on the difference between the bow and the stern.
“The maritime industry is a specialized industry,” he explained. “One of the best features of arbitration is that the parties can choose an arbitrator to resolve their dispute who understands the industry.”
Compared with standard court cases, which experience backlogs and can require significant time and expense in the discovery phase, arbitration and mediation typically shorten the time to resolution and reduce costs. Many industry officials prefer arbitration to litigation because it requires less time and expense.
“Maritime arbitration is simpler, faster and less expensive than litigation,” said Gordon Schreck, a member of the MAA Executive Committee practicing law in Charleston. “It has been successfully used by consumers, businesses, governmental agencies – even the courts – and is recommended where confidentiality must be preserved, and where the parties wish to avoid the time, expense and publicity of a court trial.”
Although some regional maritime arbitration groups have offered dispute resolution in the past, this is the first dedicated national maritime arbitration association. Plus, MAA arbitrators and mediators are practicing lawyers – rather than business people in the field — who serve clients in both commercial and recreational sectors of the industry and have significant experience in maritime law.
“Engaging the MAA will ensure that maritime knowledge and experience are reflected in the process of resolving disputes,” Glenn said. “Since arbitration and mediation bring differing parties together, as opposed to keeping them at a distance, which is common in litigation, business relationships often can be saved or maintained by the use of these alternative procedures.”
He added that MAA members are currently working on getting listed as the arbitration provider on standard form contracts in the maritime industry. The group recently was added to the California Yacht Brokers Association’s 2008 standard form contracts.
“I think there’s been a lot of interest in some areas of the industry,” Glenn said. “But we’re still relatively new. As we grow and become more well-known and are written into more contracts, we’ll be able to serve the industry more broadly.”
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