Can Nonbinding Arbitration Resolve My Personal Injury Case Quicker?
Litigating a personal injury claim often requires a good deal of time and expense. One way to expedite the process is through non-binding arbitration. Under Florida law, a judge may refer any civil action to arbitration. This is not the same thing as mandatory arbitration, as is sometimes required by contract. Rather, it is a strictly non-binding process where neither party automatically waives their right to later request a jury trial.
Nonbinding arbitration is conducted by either a single arbitrator or a panel of three arbitrators. The arbitrators hear the case without a jury. If the parties wish, the arbitration hearing can even be held remotely via a teleconference (i.e., Zoom). The overall process is far less formal than a traditional courtroom trial.
Nonbinding arbitration is designed to resolve disputes quickly. As such, the process imposes a strict set of deadlines. Under Florida’s rules, an arbitration must normally be completed within 30 days of the first arbitration hearing (and in no case later than 60 days). Once the hearing is completed, the arbitrator must issue a decision–known as an award–within 10 days. If either party disagrees with the award, they can then return to court and file a motion for a trial de novo within 20 days of the arbitrator serving the award.
Appeals Court Rejects Trial Motion Files One Day Late
It is critical to understand that these deadlines are not flexible. Any failure to strictly comply may result in a party forfeiting certain rights. A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Gambrel v. Sampson, provides an important cautionary tale in this regard.
This case involved a personal injury claim arising from a rear-end auto accident. The plaintiff sued the driver of the trailing car and his employer. Following discovery, all parties agreed to non-binding arbitration.
The arbitrator issued an award for the plaintiff, but limited damages to just her past medical expenses. The award was then served by email to counsel for both sides. The plaintiff, dissatisfied with the limited damages, wished to move for a trial de novo. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, she did not file her motion until one day after the 20-day deadline expired.
The trial court was actually willing to overlook the late filing due to the “excusable and reasonable misunderstanding.” The Second District, however, said that was a mistake. Indeed, the appellate court made it clear that the trial judge had no discretion to extend or overlook the 20-day deadline. It was a strict mandate. As such, the court’s role in enforcing the deadline was a “ministerial duty.”
Speak with a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Even in traditional litigation, there are a number of court-imposed deadlines that parties must follow. Failure to understand and meet these requirements can prove fatal to a case. And as the decision above illustrates, there are times when a court will not accept even a reasonable excuse for a delay or missed deadline.
That is why it is crucial to work with an experienced Boynton Beach car accident attorney who will help ensure your case remains on-track. Contact the Leifer Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team.