Interesting little case out of the Fourth District today, which might serve as a warning to any lawyers looking to safeguard a favorable arbitration result: If you signed the stipulation to arbitrate in your client's stead ... well, expect that the outcome might be jeopardized.
That's what happened today in Toal v. Tardif. From the opinion (.pdf):
"Each couple's attorney signed a stipulation to resolve the dispute through private arbitration. Although the parties themselves did not sign the stipulation, the document stated the attorneys' signatures were 'for' their clients."
So why so picky, Fourth District?
The arbitrator in the house-purchase dispute decided in favor of the plaintiff couple, and the trial court confirmed the award. But the Fourth District remanded for a whole new evidentiary hearing to dig into whether the losing defendants "ratified" the agreement.
As put by Justice Raymond Ikola, a client can authorize their lawyer to sign on their behalf, but there should be some additional "substantiation" that makes their intentions really, really clear:
"Because an attorney lacks apparent authority to sign an arbitration contract on his or her client's behalf, the lawyer's signature alone is not sufficient evidence the client consented to arbitration."
— Pam Smith