Encyclopedia of Investment Terminology

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Arbitration often allows you to resolve disputes more quickly and cheaply than by going to court. Instead of judges or juries, arbitrators decide if wrongdoing occurred and how to correct or compensate you for it.

When the arbitration is over, the decisions of the arbitrators are final. If you are unhappy with the result, you cannot go to court to try again. The arbitrators' decisions can only be appealed under very limited circumstances—for example, if you can demonstrate that an arbitrator was biased. If you want to appeal an arbitrator's decision you must do so within three months or less in a "motion to vacate." You'll find more information about appealing an arbitrator's decision elsewhere in Fast Answers.

If you have a brokerage account, you probably signed an agreement that requires you to settle any disputes with your broker through arbitration rather than the courts.

Time is of the essence. To take advantage of your legal rights, you must take legal action promptly or you may lose the right to seek a remedy or recover funds. Time restrictions, called "statutes of limitations," vary from state to state. For example, federal securities laws generally require that you bring a court action within two years of the date that you should have reasonably discovered the wrongdoing, but in no case later than five years from the date the wrongdoing actually occurred. Arbitrators look to either a federal or state statute of limitations, depending on whether your claim is a violation of federal or state law. You generally cannot pursue an issue through arbitration if it is more than six years old.

To file arbitration action. To obtain information about how to file an arbitration claim, you can contact the Director of Arbitration at one of the following organizations:

NASD Dispute Resolution

One Liberty Plaza

165 Broadway, 27th Floor

New York, NY 10006

(212) 858-4400

New York Stock Exchange

Dispute Resolution/Arbitration

20 Broad Street, 5th Floor

New York, NY 10005

(212) 656-2772

The majority of arbitration claims are filed with NASD Dispute Resolution, Inc. The remaining claims are filed with the exchanges, particularly the New York Stock Exchange.

You'll find a wealth of information on arbitration—including rules, how to start a proceeding, and downloadable forms—at the website of NASD Dispute Resolution. The New York Stock Exchange also provides arbitration information on filing a claim and its rules.

Simplified arbitration. If you use NASD Dispute Resolution and your claim is $25,000 or less, you generally will not have to appear in person at a hearing. Under NYSE Rule 601 rules, the threshold is similarly $25,000. In simplified arbitrations, the arbitrator will make a decision on your case by reviewing documents and written descriptions of what happened from you and your broker. This is a less costly alternative because you do not have to travel to a hearing and appear in person to give testimony and answer questions. You should carefully review the rules governing simplified arbitration before you file a claim.

Mediation. Mediation is also an option you should consider before going to arbitration. Mediation may allow you to save time and money because it is quicker than arbitration. Mediation also can be less confrontational than arbitration. If you can't reach an agreement through mediation, you can still go to arbitration. The NASD Dispute Resolution and the NYSE have more information about mediation.

Much of the above information is courtesy of the SEC.

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