(a) Authority of the Chief Arbitrator. The chief arbitrator shall have authority to commence and adjourn the arbitration hearing and carry out other such duties as are prescribed by section 44.103, Florida Statutes. The chief arbitrator shall not have authority to hold any person in contempt or to in any way impose sanctions against any person.
(b) Conduct of the Arbitration Hearing.
(1) The chief judge of each judicial circuit shall set procedures for determining the time and place of the arbitration hearing and may establish other procedures for the expeditious and orderly operation of the arbitration hearing to the extent such procedures are not in conflict with any rules of court.
(2) Hearing procedures shall be included in the notice of arbitration hearing sent to the parties and arbitration panel.
(3) Individual parties or authorized representatives of corporate parties shall attend the arbitration hearing unless excused in advance by the chief arbitrator for good cause shown.
(c) Rules of Evidence. The hearing shall be conducted informally. Presentation of testimony shall be kept to a minimum, and matters shall be presented to the arbitrator(s) primarily through the statements and arguments of counsel.
(d) Orders. The chief arbitrator may issue instructions as are necessary for the expeditious and orderly conduct of the hearing. The chief arbitrator’s instructions are not appealable. Upon notice to all parties the chief arbitrator may apply to the presiding judge for orders directing compliance with such instructions. Instructions enforced by a court order are appealable as are other orders of the court.
(e) Default of a Party. When a party fails to appear at a hearing, the chief arbitrator may proceed with the hearing and the arbitration panel shall render a decision based upon the facts and circumstances as presented by the parties present.
(f) Record and Transcript. Any party may have a record and transcript made of the arbitration hearing at that party’s expense.
(g) Completion of the Arbitration Process.
(1) Arbitration shall be completed within 30 days of the first arbitration hearing unless extended by order of the court on motion of the chief arbitrator or of a party. No extension of time shall be for a period exceeding 60 days from the date of the first arbitration hearing.
(2) Upon the completion of the arbitration process, the arbitrator(s) shall render a decision. In the case of a panel, a decision shall be final upon a majority vote of the panel.
(3) Within 10 days of the final adjournment of the arbitration hearing, the arbitrator(s) shall notify the parties, in writing, of their decision. The arbitration decision may set forth the issues in controversy and the arbitrator(’s)(s’) conclusions and findings of fact and law. The arbitrator(’s)(s’) decision and the originals of any transcripts shall be sealed and filed with the clerk at the time the parties are notified of the decision.
(h) Time for Filing Motion for Trial. Any party may file a motion for trial. If a motion for trial is filed by any party, any party having a third-party claim at issue at the time of arbitration may file a motion for trial within 10 days of service of the first motion for trial. If a motion for trial is not made within 20 days of service on the parties of the decision, the decision shall be referred to the presiding judge, who shall enter such orders and judgments as may be required to carry out the terms of the decision as provided by section 44.103(5), Florida Statutes.
1988 Adoption. Arbitration proceedings should be informal and expeditious. The court should take into account the nature of the proceedings when determining whether to award costs and attorneys’ fees after a trial de novo. Counsel are free to file exceptions to an arbitration decision or award at the time it is to be considered by the court. The court should consider such exceptions when determining whether to award costs and attorneys’ fees. The court should consider rule 1.442 concerning offers of judgment and section 45.061, Florida Statutes (1985), concerning offers of settlement, as statements of public policy in deciding whether fees should be awarded.
1994 Amendment. The Supreme Court Committee on Mediation and Arbitration Rules recommends that a copy of the local arbitration procedures be disseminated to the local bar.
2003 Amendment. The statutory reference in subdivision (h) is changed to reflect changes in the statutory numbering.
2007 Amendment. Subdivision (h) is amended to avoid the unintended consequences for defendants with third-party claims who prevailed at arbitration but could not pursue those claims in a circuit court action because no motion for trial was filed despite a plaintiff or plaintiffs having filed a motion for trial that covered those claims. See State Dept. of Transportation v. BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., 859 So. 2d 1278 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).
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