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Voluntary Trial Resolution in Florida

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What Is Voluntary Trial Resolution?

Voluntary trial resolution, or a private trial, is a type of alternative dispute resolution that allows two parties to come to an agreement by way of a third party acting as a judge and offering a verdict. In 1999 Florida legislature passed legislation that the Trial Lawyers Section of the Florida Bar sponsored. The law mirrored similar legislation in California designed to help reduce the backlog of cases (leading to delays in receiving trial dates) and the diminished judicial resources. Florida legislators appended the arbitration proceeding in Statute 44.104 so that for the past 20 years, it has been: “Voluntary binding arbitration and voluntary trial resolution.”

Voluntary trial resolution allows for a lawyer who has been in good standing with the Florida Bar for more than five years to act as a trial resolution judge (44.104.2). If both parties can agree on who that should be, then the court will follow that directive. However, if the parties cannot agree, a court-appointed trial resolution judge is assigned within ten days of the request. The Florida Evidence Code and the Rules of Civil Procedure apply to the private trial proceedings, which means that it is more formal than arbitration and, in many ways, is similar to a civil trial held in a circuit or county court. For example, the trial resolution judge has the authority to enter orders on motions to dismiss and to resolve discovery disputes, if they occur.

It is important to note one distinction between a civil trial and a private trial: Although there have been legislative attempts to establish a jury trial option for voluntary trial resolution, at this time, there is no procedure in place to allow for this.

What Are the Benefits to a Private Trial?

Choosing a private trial has many benefits to consider. First, like most other alternative dispute resolution types, it can frequently be less costly than going to trial in the standard process. Unlike a regular trial, both parties have more control if they can agree on the trial resolution judge. The ability to select the decision-maker, access the benefit of appeal, and the application of civil procedures, set a private trial apart from arbitration. Additionally, like arbitration, a private trial affords the parties more flexibility in determining the schedule for the hearings. Although the compensation for the trial resolution judge might seem costly, in the long run, it has the potential to save time and money by avoiding litigation.

What Doesn’t Qualify for Voluntary Trial Resolution?

According to 44.104.14: “This section shall not apply to any dispute involving child custody, visitation, or child support, or to any dispute which involves the rights of a third party not a party to the arbitration or voluntary trial resolution when the third party would be an indispensable party if the dispute were resolved in court or when the third party notifies the chief arbitrator or the trial resolution judge that the third party would be a proper party if the dispute were resolved in court, that the third party intends to intervene in the action in court, and that the third party does not agree to proceed under this section.”

So, if there are children involved in civil litigation, then a private trial is not a viable option in Florida, though mediation is a potential alternative. Additionally, if the dispute involves a matter of Constitutional law, it is disqualified from voluntary trial resolution.

How Is Voluntary Trial Resolution Different From Arbitration?

Apart from the formality distinction mentioned above, the biggest differentiator between voluntary trial resolution and arbitration is the ability to file an appeal.

According to the Florida statutes, there are minimal circumstances under which an appeal may be filed regarding an arbitration decision. F.S. 44.104.10 states: “An appeal of a voluntary binding arbitration decision shall be taken to the circuit court and shall be limited to review on the record and not de novo, of: (a) Any alleged failure of the arbitrators to comply with the applicable rules of procedure or evidence. (b) Any alleged partiality or misconduct by an arbitrator prejudicing the rights of any party.

(c) Whether the decision reaches a result contrary to the Constitution of the United States or of the State of Florida.”

In contrast, the following statute (which speaks to voluntary trial resolution) states: “Any party may enforce a final decision rendered in a voluntary trial by filing a petition for final judgment in the circuit court in the circuit in which the voluntary trial took place. Upon entry of final judgment by the circuit court, any party may appeal to the appropriate appellate court. Factual findings determined in the voluntary trial are not subject to appeal.” (F.S. 44.104.11).

This allows both parties to retain more power over the outcome than what they retain with arbitration. Subsequently, voluntary trial resolution maintains both formality and flexibility, making it a valuable candidate for case resolution.

Are You Considering a Private Trial?

If you are involved in a circumstance where you’re considering civil litigation, an experienced attorney can help you discern whether or not a private trial is a beneficial option. Our team at Boyer Law Firm is here to answer your questions and help you understand all of your options. Contact us today for more information.


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