Directing a resident’s trip-and-fall action against a Palm Beach Country retirement community to arbitration, the Fourth DCA defined "establishment" as a place of business, not a ruling class.

John Delsordo sued Newport Place, an independent retirement living facility, and its owners and operators after he fractured his shoulder when he fell on the property. He claimed the defendants negligently maintained the area and failed to warn him of a known dangerous condition.

The defendants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that Delsordo’s claim fell within the scope of the provision. In particular, the provision required the parties to arbitrate contract, negligence or statutory disputes over $15,000 that arose out of the agreement, establishment or services. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, the Fourth DCA reversed. The court limited its review to the construction and validity of the provision.

The central issue came down to the meaning of "establishment" in the context of the provision.

Delsordo argued that establishment referred to the parties operating Newport Place, and alternatively, that it was ambiguous and should be construed against the defendants because they drafted the agreement.

But the court found the defendants’ argument — that establishment simply referred to a place of business — more persuasive.

"The plaintiff’s interpretation of the term ‘establishment’ is not a reasonable interpretation in light of the context in which the term was used in the lease. Indeed, if one were to insert the plaintiff’s proposed definition of ‘establishment’ in the arbitration addendum, it would lead to a nonsensical reading," Judge Carole Y. Taylor wrote.

The case will proceed to arbitration on remand.