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Georgia’s Uniform Mediation Act (“GUMA”), codified at O.C.G.A. § 9-17-1, et seq., went into effect on July 1, 2021 and applies to mediation proceedings entered into from that date. GUMA provides new protections and requirements for parties and mediators engaging in private mediation in Georgia. GUMA applies where parties elect to pursue mediation with an individual who holds himself or herself out as a mediator or a provider of mediation services. It also applies when a court refers a case to mediation. GUMA does not set forth any requirement that parties engage in mediation to try to resolve their dispute.
With GUMA’s enactment, with some exceptions, communications made during a mediation are now considered privileged under O.C.G.A. § 9-17-3. This means that a privileged mediation communication is not subject to discovery or admissible in evidence in a judicial proceeding. In a judicial proceeding, the mediator and a party to a mediation may refuse to disclose and may prevent another person from disclosing a communication that occurred during a mediation. The privilege may be waived, however, if the mediation parties agree to such a waiver. The privilege does not apply in certain circumstances, such as if the communication involves a threat or statement of a plan to inflict bodily injury or commit a criminal act of violence. Other than reporting, for example, that a mediation occurred, whether settlement was reached, and attendance, a mediator generally may not make a report of the mediation to a court that may make a ruling on the dispute at issue.
GUMA also imposes a requirement for mediators to make a reasonable inquiry and disclose prior to accepting a mediation whether any known facts are likely to affect the impartiality of the mediator, such as a financial or personal interest in the outcome or an existing or past relationship with a mediation party.
Parties and their counsel should review GUMA before engaging in mediation in Georgia to ensure that they are familiar with its scope and applicability, including requirements or exceptions not covered here that may be pertinent to their circumstances.