Scope of Arbitration Agreement in Home Warranty to be Determined by Arbitrator, Not Court

Mercedes Homes, Inc. v. Colon, 966 So.2d 10 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007)

In this case, an individual entered into an agreement with a contractor for construction of a new home, which included a provision requiring the contractor to install sod.  When the home buyer fell in his yard eleven days after closing, he brought a personal injury claim against the contractor claiming it had installed the sod negligently.  The contractor moved to compel arbitration of the personal injury claim, based on the arbitration agreement contained in the home warranty purchased by the home buyer.  In response, the buyer argued that he was not required to arbitrate his personal injury claim because negligence claims were expressly excluded from the home warranty.

Under Florida law, the question of whether parties have submitted a particular issue to arbitration – i.e., the "question of arbitrability" – generally is left up to the courts, "unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise."  966 So.2d at 14.  Since the arbitration agreement in the home warranty unmistakably provided that "the scope of arbitrable issues . . . shall be decided by the arbitrator," the appellate court held that the determination of whether plaintiff’s personal injury claim was subject to arbitration should have been left up to the arbitrator.  Thus, the trial court erred in denying the contractor’s motion to compel arbitration.

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