Lakeland Appeals Court Rules Car Accident Defendant Entitled to Legal Fees After Plaintiff Rejects Settlement Offer

file6351284658923 morguefile cohdraIn Miley v. Nash, a woman was injured in a Florida automobile collision. Following the accident, the woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who allegedly caused the crash and the owner of the vehicle in a Florida Court. In addition, her spouse sought damages for his loss of consortium. Prior to trial, the defendants made a settlement offer of more than $58,000 to the woman. The offer required the woman to dismiss all of her claims against both defendants and pay her own legal fees. Although the offer did not address her husband’s loss of consortium cause of action, he later dropped his claim.

The woman rejected the defendants’ settlement proposal, and the case proceeded to trial. Following a jury trial, jurors issued a verdict of nearly $18,000 in favor of the woman. Next, the defendants filed a request for attorney’s fees and costs under Section 768.79 of the Florida Statutes. Under the law, a plaintiff who receives a verdict that is at least 25 percent less than a written settlement offer may be ordered to pay the legal fees of the opposing party.

The trial court denied the defendants’ motion and stated the proposed settlement was deficient because it did not specifically address the husband’s loss of consortium claim, failed to identify the exact claims being resolved, did not address the conditions associated with the offer with sufficient particularity, and failed to outline the amount of the offer that was attributable to each individual. After that, the defendants filed an appeal with Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

On appeal, the court stated the settlement identified those claims to be resolved with enough particularity under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442. The appellate court said the language in the offer clearly addressed only those personal injury claims brought by the woman. Because of this, the Second District held the settlement was not intended to apply to her spouse’s loss of consortium claim. The court added that the settlement proposal was not required to address the husband’s claim, even though it was derivative. Even if the woman accepted the offer, the court found the husband would still have been free to pursue his claim.

The Court of Appeals then found that the settlement offer met the particularity requirements enumerated in Florida law. The court said it sufficiently described the amount each defendant would pay, the claims to be resolved, the required action to be taken by the woman if accepted, and other required factors. Because of this, the appellate court found the offer was not ambiguous regarding the effect of acceptance. The court also stated the settlement offer was not required to describe which portion was attributable to the vehicle owner under Rule 1.442 because it was a joint proposal and the owner was solely vicariously liable for the collision.

Since the trial court committed error when it denied the defendants’ motion for legal costs, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s order and remanded the case.

If you were hurt in a South Florida car accident, you should discuss your rights with a knowledgeable Miami personal injury lawyer as soon as you are able. To speak with an experienced Broward County motor vehicle crash attorney today, do not hesitate to give the skilled advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Miley v. Nash, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2015

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South Florida Court Dismisses Jones Act Case for Lack of Jurisdiction, July 14, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Appeals Court Holds Apportionment Must be Based on Reliable Methods in Florida Workers’ Compensation Case, July 9, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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