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Florida Fourth DCA rules that arbitration clause in plaintiff’s home purchase contract with developer did not apply in subsequent premises liability lawsuit against developer for injuries plaintiff sustained in fall on developer’s residential community property

On November 3, 2021, in Dewees v. Johnson, et al, No. 4D21-446, the Florida Fourth DCA reversed a non-final order of the trial court compelling arbitration and staying litigation of the plaintiff’s negligence and breach of duty claims in a premises liability complaint against a real estate developer. The plaintiff had purchased a home from the defendant developer in a private residential community. Eighteen months after signing the purchase contract, she fell while riding her bike in an area of the community where the asphalt surfacing of the roads had not been completed. The trial court compelled arbitration of the personal injury claims and stayed the personal injury lawsuit based on an arbitration provision in the plaintiff’s purchase contract which the developer claimed was controlling since at the time of the accident the plaintiff was riding her bicycle to the developer’s sales office to make a warranty claim under the purchase contract. The Fourth DCA stated that since the purchase contract contained broad arbitration language, the accident was subject to the arbitration provision if a “significant relationship” existed between the claim and the agreement containing the arbitration clause, regardless of the legal label attached to the dispute, and citing in support Seifert v. U.S. Home Corp., 750 So. 2d 633, 636 (Fla. 1999) and King Motor Co. of Fort Lauderdale v. Jones, 901 So. 2d 1017, 1019 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005). The Court additionally cited Jackson v. Shakespeare Found., Inc., 108 So. 3d 587, 593 (Fla. 2013) and Baker v. Econ. Rsch. Servs., Inc., 242 So. 3d 450, 455 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) for the principle that a “significant relationship” exists if there is a “contractual nexus” between the claim and the contract, with a “contractual nexus” existing if the claim presents circumstances in which the resolution of the disputed issue requires either reference to, or construction of, a portion of the contract. The Fourth DCA concluded that there was no contractual nexus between the dispute and purchase contract such that it would be fair to presume this type of dispute was intended to be subject to the arbitration provision contained in the purchase contract.

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