A. The superior court, by rule of court, shall do both of the following:
1. Establish jurisdictional limits of not to exceed sixty-five thousand dollars for submission of disputes to arbitration.
2. Require arbitration in all cases which are filed in superior court in which the court finds or the parties agree that the amount in controversy does not exceed the jurisdictional limit.
B. The court may waive the arbitration requirement on a showing of good cause if all parties file a written stipulation waiving the arbitration requirement.
C. The court shall maintain a list of qualified persons within its jurisdiction who have agreed to serve as arbitrators, subject to the right of each person to refuse to serve in a particular assigned case and subject further to the right of any party to show good cause why an appointed arbitrator should not serve in a particular assigned case. The court rules shall provide that the case subject to arbitration shall be assigned for hearing to a panel of three arbitrators, or in the alternative, to a single arbitrator, each of whom shall be selected by the court.
D. Regardless of whether or not suit has been filed, any case may be referred to arbitration by an agreement of reference signed by the parties or their respective counsel for both sides in the case. The agreement of reference shall define the issues involved for determination in the arbitration proceeding and may also contain stipulations with respect to agreed facts, issues or defenses. In such cases, the agreement of reference shall take the place of the pleadings in the case and shall be filed of record.
E. The arbitration award shall be in writing, signed by a majority of the arbitrators and filed with the court. The court shall enter the award in its record of judgments. The award has the effect of a judgment on the parties unless reversed on appeal.
F. The arbitrators shall administer oaths or affirmations and conduct the hearings pursuant to court rule. The clerk of the superior court shall issue subpoenas, which are enforceable as provided by law.
G. Each arbitrator shall be paid a reasonable sum, not to exceed one hundred forty dollars per day, to be specified by the rules of the appointing court, for each day necessarily expended by the arbitrator in the hearing and determination of the case. The compensation of the arbitrators shall be paid by the county, in which the court has jurisdiction, from its general revenues and shall not be taxed as costs.
H. Any party to the arbitration proceeding may appeal from the arbitration award to the court in which the award is entered by filing, within the time limited by rule of court, a demand for trial de novo on law and fact.
I. On appeal, at the time of filing the demand for trial de novo, and as a condition of filing, the appellant shall deposit a sum equal to the total compensation of the arbitrators, but not exceeding ten per cent of the amount in controversy, which sum shall be deposited with the county. If the court finds that the appellant is unable to make the deposit by reason of lack of funds, the court shall allow the filing of the appeal without the deposit. On motion of the appellant within thirty days after the judgment on the trial de novo, the deposit shall be refunded to the appellant if the judgment on the trial de novo is at least twenty-three per cent more favorable than the monetary relief or other type of relief granted by the arbitration award. If the judgment on trial de novo is not at least twenty-three per cent more favorable than the monetary relief or other type of relief granted by the arbitration award, the court, on its own motion or on motion of the appellee within thirty days after the judgment on the trial de novo, shall order that the deposit be used to pay, or that the appellant pay if the deposit is insufficient, the following costs and fees, unless the court finds on motion that the imposition of the costs and fees would create such a substantial economic hardship as not to be in the interest of justice:
1. To the county, the compensation actually paid to the arbitrator.
2. To the appellee, those costs taxable in any civil action and reasonable attorney fees as determined by the trial judge for services necessitated by the appeal.
3. Reasonable expert witness fees that are incurred by the appellee in connection with the appeal.
J. If the court does not provide an order for the disposition of the deposit required by subsection I of this section within ninety days after the final disposition of the trial de novo, the clerk of the court shall transfer the deposit to the county general fund in an amount not to exceed the deposit but sufficient to reimburse the county for the compensation actually paid to the arbitrator and shall refund any balance of the deposit to the appellant.
K. An arbitrator is personally immune from suit with respect to all acts done and actions taken in furtherance of the purposes of this section.
L. The jurisdictional limit under subsection A, paragraph 1 of this section does not apply to arbitration that is conducted under an alternative dispute resolution program approved by the supreme court.