Arbitration as the method of dispute resolution is based on your contract. If you don’t want to arbitrate, do not (I repeat, do not) include an arbitration provision. If you ultimately have no choice and need to agree to a contract that includes an arbitration provision, understand that this provision will be enforced unless the parties agree to waive it.
The recent case of Bari Builders, Inc. v. Hovstone Properties Florida, LLC, et al., 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1648a (Fla. 4th DCA 2014), exemplifies what happens if you include an arbitration provision. In this case, a condominium association sued the developer for construction defects. The developer (that may have also served as the general contractor / home builder) third-partied in its subcontractors. However, there was a binding arbitration provision in the subcontract. Subcontractors, therefore, moved to compel arbitration of the developer’s claims against them. The developer, naturally, did not want to arbitrate its third-party claims against subcontractors when it was being sued by the condominium association. It makes more sense to wrap up the disputes in one matter. The developer tried to argue around arbitration by arguing that the arbitration provision in its contract was ambiguous because another place in the contract said, “In all actions the parties waive the right to jury and agree to determination of all facts by the court.” The Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed with the developer’s ambiguity argument and reconciled this language:
“[T]he jury waiver language in the subcontract does not render the arbitration provision ambiguous, as the two provisions can be reconciled in favor of arbitration. Read together, the provisions provide that the parties agree to submit any ‘controversy or claim’ to arbitration and, thereafter, any award may be reduced to judgment in court without the right to a jury trial. Additionally, in the event that the parties choose to waive their right to arbitration, the clause provides that any ‘action’ in court will be in the form of a bench trial.”
Bari Builders, supra.
As shown in this case, courts will favor arbitration when there is an arbitration provision in the contract. If parties prefer arbitration, and specifically if arbitration is preferred by a general contractor, the contract should include language that in the event the general contractor is sued by the developer or association (or any third-party), the general contractor, at its sole discretion, can waive arbitration and the parties are bound to the forum governing the dispute against the general contractor. In other words, the general contractor has the authority to join in the subcontractor to any dispute it is involved in irrespective of the arbitration provision.
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