2004 Florida Statutes
Pilot RV Mediation and Arbitration Program; dispute eligibility and program function.
(1) Before filing a civil action on a matter subject to s. 681.104, a consumer who acquires a recreational vehicle must first submit the dispute to the department, and to the program if the dispute is deemed eligible. Such consumer is not required to resort to a procedure certified pursuant to s. 681.108, notwithstanding that one of the manufacturers of the recreational vehicle has such a procedure. Such consumer is not required to resort to arbitration conducted by the board, except as provided in s. 681.1096(4) and in this section.
(2) A consumer acquiring a recreational vehicle must apply to participate in this program with respect to a claim arising during the Lemon Law rights period by filing the application in subsection (3) with the department no later than 60 days after the expiration of the Lemon Law rights period.
(3) The consumer's application for participation in the program must be on a form prescribed or approved by the department. The department shall screen all applications to participate in the program to determine eligibility. The department shall forward to the program administrator all applications the department determines are potentially entitled to relief under this chapter.
(a) If the department determines the application lacks sufficient information from which a determination of eligibility can be made, the department shall request additional information from the consumer and, upon review of such additional information, shall determine whether the application is eligible or reject the application as incomplete.
(b) The department shall reject any application it determines to be fraudulent or outside the scope of this chapter.
(c) The consumer and the manufacturer shall be notified in writing by the department if an application is rejected. Such notification of rejection shall include a brief explanation as to the reason for the rejection.
(d) If the department rejects a dispute, the consumer may file a lawsuit to enforce the remedies provided under this chapter. In any civil action arising under this chapter and relating to the matter considered by the department, any determination made to reject a dispute is admissible in evidence.
(e) The department may delegate responsibility for the screening of claims to the program, in which event claims filed with the department shall be forwarded to the program administrator and the provisions of this section shall apply to claims screened by the program.
(4) Mediation shall be mandatory for both the consumer and manufacturer, unless the dispute is settled prior to the scheduled mediation conference. The mediation conference shall be confidential and inadmissible in any subsequent adversarial proceedings. Participation shall be limited to the parties directly involved in the dispute and their attorneys, if any. All manufacturers shall be represented by persons with settlement authority.
(a) Upon receipt of an eligible application, the program administrator shall notify the consumer and all involved manufacturers in writing that an eligible application has been received. Such notification shall include a statement that a mediation conference will be scheduled, shall identify the assigned mediator, and provide information regarding the program's procedures. The program administrator shall provide all involved manufacturers with a copy of the completed application.
(b) The mediator shall be selected and assigned by the program administrator. The parties may factually object to a mediator based upon the mediator's past or present relationship with a party or a party's attorney, direct or indirect, whether financial, professional, social, or of any other kind. The program administrator shall consider any such objection, determine its validity, and notify the parties of any determination. If the objection is determined valid, the program administrator shall assign another mediator to the case.
(c) At the mediation conference, the mediator shall assist the parties' efforts to reach a mutually acceptable settlement of their dispute; however, the mediator shall not impose any settlement upon the parties.
(d) Upon conclusion of the mediation conference, the mediator shall notify the program administrator that the case has settled or remains at an impasse. The program administrator shall notify the department in writing of the outcome of the mediation.
(e) If the mediation conference ends in an impasse, it shall proceed to arbitration pursuant to subsection (5). The program administrator shall immediately notify the parties in writing that the dispute will proceed to arbitration and shall identify the assigned arbitrator.
(f) If the parties enter into a settlement at any time after the dispute has been submitted to the program, such settlement must be reduced to writing, signed by the consumer and all involved manufacturers, and filed with the program administrator. The program administrator shall send a copy to the department. All settlements must contain, at a minimum, the following information:
1. Name and address of the consumer.
2. Name and address of each involved manufacturer.
3. Year, make, model, and vehicle identification number of the subject recreational vehicle.
4. Name and address of the dealership from which the recreational vehicle was acquired.
5. Date the claim was received by the program administrator.
6. Name of the mediator and/or arbitrator, if any.
7. Statement of the terms of the agreement, including, but not limited to: whether the vehicle is to be reacquired by a manufacturer and the identity of the manufacturer that will reacquire the vehicle; the amount of any moneys to be paid by the consumer and/or a manufacturer; the year, make, and model of any replacement motor vehicle or motor vehicle accepted by the consumer as a trade-assist; and a time certain for performance not to exceed 40 days from the date the settlement agreement is signed by the parties.
(g) If a manufacturer fails to perform within the time required in any settlement agreement, the consumer must notify the program administrator of such failure in writing within 10 days of the required performance date. Within 10 days of receipt of such notice, the program administrator shall notify the department of the manufacturer's failure in compliance and shall schedule the matter for an arbitration hearing pursuant to subsection (5).
(5) If the mediation ends in an impasse, or if a manufacturer fails to comply with the settlement entered into between the parties, the program administrator shall schedule the dispute for an arbitration hearing. Arbitration proceedings shall be open to the public on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.
(a) The arbitration hearing shall be conducted by a single arbitrator assigned by the program administrator. The arbitrator shall not be the same person as the mediator who conducted the prior mediation conference in the dispute. The parties may factually object to an arbitrator based on the arbitrator's past or present relationship with a party or a party's attorney, direct or indirect, whether financial, professional, social, or of any other kind. The program administrator shall consider any such objection, determine its validity, and notify the parties of any determination. If the objection is determined valid, the program administrator shall assign another arbitrator to the case.
(b) The arbitrator may issue subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses and for the production of records, documents, and other evidence. Subpoenas so issued shall be served and, upon application to the court by a party to the arbitration, enforced in the manner provided by law for the service and enforcement of subpoenas in civil actions. Fees for attendance as a witness shall be the same as for a witness in the circuit court.
(c) At all program arbitration proceedings, the parties may present oral and written testimony, present witnesses and evidence relevant to the dispute, cross-examine witnesses, and be represented by counsel. The arbitrator shall record the arbitration hearing and shall have the power to administer oaths. The arbitrator may inspect the vehicle if requested by a party or if the arbitrator considers such inspection appropriate.
(d) The program arbitrator may continue a hearing on his or her own motion or upon the request of a party for good cause shown. A request for continuance by the consumer constitutes a waiver of the time period set forth in s. 681.1096(3)(k) for completion of all proceedings under the program.
(e) Where the arbitration is the result of a manufacturer's failure to perform in accordance with a settlement agreement, any relief to the consumer granted by the arbitration will be no less than the relief agreed to by the manufacturer in the settlement agreement.
(f) The arbitrator shall grant relief if a reasonable number of attempts have been undertaken to correct a nonconformity or nonconformities.
(g) The program arbitrator shall render a decision within 10 days of the closing of the hearing. The decision shall be in writing on a form prescribed or approved by the department. The program administrator shall send a copy of the decision to the consumer and each involved manufacturer by registered mail. The program administrator shall also send a copy of the decision to the department within 5 days of mailing to the parties.
(h) A manufacturer shall comply with an arbitration decision within 40 days of the date the manufacturer receives the written decision. Compliance occurs on the date the consumer receives delivery of an acceptable replacement motor vehicle or the refund specified in the arbitration award. If a manufacturer fails to comply within the time required, the consumer must notify the program administrator in writing within 10 days. The program administrator shall notify the department of a manufacturer's failure to comply. The department shall have the authority to enforce compliance with arbitration decisions under this section in the same manner as is provided for enforcement of compliance with board decisions under s. 681.1095(10). In any civil action arising under this chapter and relating to a dispute arbitrated pursuant to this section, the decision of the arbitrator is admissible in evidence.
(i) Either party may request that the program arbitrator make a technical correction to the decision by filing a written request with the program administrator within 10 days after receipt of the written decision. Technical corrections shall be limited to computational errors, correction of a party's name or information regarding the recreational vehicle, and typographical or spelling errors. Technical correction of a decision shall not toll the time for filing an appeal or for manufacturer compliance.
(6) Except as otherwise provided, all provisions in this section pertaining to mandatory mediation and arbitration, eligibility screening, mediation proceedings, arbitration hearings and decisions, and any appeals thereof are exempt from the provisions of chapter 120.
(7) A decision of the arbitrator is binding unless appealed by either party by filing a petition with the circuit court within the time and in the manner prescribed by s. 681.1095(10) and (12). Section 681.1095(13) and (14) apply to appeals filed under this section. If a decision of a program arbitrator in favor of a consumer is confirmed by the court, recovery by the consumer shall include the pecuniary value of the award, attorney's fees incurred in obtaining confirmation of the award, and all costs and continuing damages in the amount of $25 per day for each day beyond the 40-day period following a manufacturer's receipt of the arbitrator's decision. If a court determines the manufacturer acted in bad faith in bringing the appeal or brought the appeal solely for the purpose of harassment, or in complete absence of a justiciable issue of law or fact, the court shall double, and may triple, the amount of the total award.
(8) The department shall have the authority to adopt reasonable rules to carry out the provisions of this section.
History.--s. 8, ch. 97-245; s. 34, ch. 2001-196; s. 3, ch. 2002-71; s. 22, ch. 2002-235.