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Florida Second DCA rules that plaintiff was not required to file formal motion for a trial de novo following nonbinding arbitration ruling when case had already been noticed for trial and defendant’s conduct operated as waiver of strict compliance with motion requirement

On September 9, 2019, in De Acosta v. Naples Community Hospital, Inc., No. 2D18-423, the Florida Second DCA reversed a final judgment entered by the trial court pursuant to an arbitration award. The trial court had referred the case for nonbinding arbitration at a time when the case was already set for trial on the trial court’s docket. A nonbinding arbitration award was subsequently entered in the defendant’s favor, in response to which the plaintiff filed a statement of facts and disputed facts, after which the defense did the same. However, the plaintiff failed to move for a trial de novo within 20 days of service of the arbitration decision, as is technically required by § 44.103.(5), Florida Statutes, if a party intends to reject the findings of the arbitration and proceed to trial. The defense subsequently moved for and the trial court granted a judgment in favor of the defendant consistent with the arbitration award. The Second DCA viewed the defendant’s conduct here as a “gotcha” tactic and concluded that by filing its own statement of facts and proceeding as if they were in fact headed to trial, the defendant effectively waived strict compliance with the rule. The Court also concluded that under the circumstances, including that the case had already been scheduled for trial, the plaintiff had “substantially complied” with the requirement of moving for a trial de novo.