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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 and not subject to appeal. If you are unhappy with the result, you cannot go to court to try again. The arbitrators' decisions can only be challenged under very limited circumstances—for example, if you can demonstrate that an arbitrator was biased. If you want to challenge an arbitrator's decision you must do so within three months or less in a "motion to vacate." You'll find more information about challenging 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:

FINRA Dispute Resolution
One Liberty Plaza
165 Broadway, 27th Floor
New York, NY 10006
(212) 858-4400

The majority of arbitration claims are filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) 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 FINRA Dispute Resolution.

Simplified arbitration.  If your claim is $25,000 or less, you generally will not have to appear in person at a hearing. 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. FINRA Dispute Resolution has more information about mediation.

Caution.  When deciding whether to arbitrate, bear in mind that if your broker or brokerage firm goes out of business or declares bankruptcy, you might not be able to recover your money—even if the arbitrator or court rules in your favor. That's one of the reasons why it is so important to investigate the disciplinary history of your broker or brokerage firm before you invest. For tips on how to do this, please read our publication entitled Check Out Your Broker.

How Do You Find a Lawyer Specializing in Securities?

If you need help in finding a lawyer who specializes in securities complaints, read our publication entitled Arbitration, How to Find a Lawyer Specializing in Securities.

What If You Cannot Hire a Lawyer?

Several law schools in California, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania provide some investors with legal representation through arbitration/mediation clinics. These clinics may be able to help investors who have smaller claims and who are unable to hire a lawyer. You can read more about these clinics in the Fast Answers section of our website.



We have provided this information as a service to investors.  It is neither a legal interpretation nor a statement of SEC policy.  If you have questions concerning the meaning or application of a particular law or rule, please consult with an attorney who specializes in securities law.

Modified: 12/13/2007