Although Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-549aa provides that a litigant has an “absolute right” to a trial de novo of an arbitration award, the Connecticut Appellate Court in Pascola-Milton v. Millard, et al., 2021 Conn.App. LEXIS 72 (2021) recently clarified that this right only applies to compulsory arbitrations.
In Millard, the plaintiff brought an underinsured motorist claim against her insurer and the defendant, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The plaintiff and Liberty agreed to submit the case to arbitration and executed an arbitration agreement which provided that “the award shall be final, binding, and not subject to review or appeal, except as provided by Connecticut Arbitration Statutes.”
Following an evidentiary hearing, the arbitrator found in favor of the plaintiff and issued an award. In response, the plaintiff filed a demand for a trial de novo pursuant to Practice Book §23-66(c), Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-549z and Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-549aa arguing that she had an absolute right to a trial de novo. The trial court denied her demand finding that “there was no statutory right to a trial de novo of an unrestricted voluntary submission to arbitration.” The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the appellate court found that the arbitration was both “voluntary” and “unrestricted.” It concluded that the “legal authority pursuant to which Pascola-Milton argues that she had an absolute right to a trial de novo, specifically §52-549z and Practice Book §23-66(c), pertains to compulsory arbitration, not voluntary arbitration.” In addition, the appellate court emphasized that an arbitrator’s decision is “final and binding” under an “unrestricted submission” and thus “the courts will not review the evidence considered by the arbitrators nor will they review the award for errors of law or fact…” Accordingly, the appellate court determined that “any review of the arbitrator’s decision is governed by §52-418, under which there is no right to a trial de novo.”
In sum, Millard provides important guidance for litigants concerning the limitations on seeking a trial de novo with respect to an arbitration award.
For more information on this case, or on this topic generally, contact Richard E. Fennelly III in our Hartford office