Recent court decisions have signaled the courts’ proclivity to prefer arbitration over full-fledged litigation when provisions in construction contracts are called into question. While the courts recognize a party’s constitutional right to a jury trial, the courts also lean strongly towards resolving disputes via arbitration as a matter of public policy, especially if a construction contract carves out arbitration as an alternative to litigation.
In Avr Davis Raleigh v. Triangle Constr. Co., 818 S.E.2d 184 (N.C. App. 2018), the North Carolina Appeals Court reviewed the issue of whether the contracting parties selected binding arbitration as an alternative to litigation. The contract at issue was an AIA A201-2007 form document. Under the terms of the contract, the parties elected to arbitrate claims under $500,000 but to litigate claims over this amount. However, if there were several claims under $500,000 but the aggregate of all claims exceeded $500,000, then the contract implied that all claims would be arbitrated. Since the claims involved were an amalgamation of the two, the contracting parties disagreed about whether the arbitration provision would apply. The plaintiff interpreted this provision to mean litigation was mandatory when at least one claim exceeded $500,000 and that arbitration was mandatory when no single claim exceeded this amount. In contrast, the defendant interpreted this provision as meaning that when there were several claims worth less than $500,000 individually, but more than $500,000 aggregately, then all claims must be arbitrated. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff’s interpretation.