Florida Appeals Court Holds Settlement Offer Was Not Vague or Ambiguous in Fatal Car Accident Lawsuit

SONY DSCIn Wallen v. Tyson, a Florida man was tragically killed in a September 2010 car accident. Following the unfortunate event, the other driver involved in the collision filed a lawsuit in a Florida court against the deceased man’s estate. After that, the estate served a $12,000 settlement proposal on the driver, which contained a release of liability for all claims arising out of the motor vehicle wreck. The release specifically stated the driver maintained his right to pursue damages from any individual other than the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The offer also stated the terms were subject to negotiation. The allegedly injured driver apparently ignored the settlement proposal, and the case proceeded to trial.

Following a jury trial, the driver received an award of $13,000. The court then reduced the award by about $3,800 for payments that were previously made by the man’s insurer. Since the final judgment was more than 25 percent less that the estate’s settlement offer, the driver was rendered liable for the estate’s legal costs under Section 768.79 of the Florida Statutes.

The driver then moved to strike the settlement proposal offered by the estate. According to the driver, the proposal was unenforceable, vague, and ambiguous. Although the trial court initially found the proposal was not vague or ambiguous, it later issued an order to strike the settlement offer due to its ambiguity. The trial court stated the language used by the estate was unclear and failed to adequately advise the driver regarding the proposed release of liability. After that, the estate filed an appeal with Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the court examined the settlement offer that was submitted by the decedent’s estate. The appellate court stated a detailed release of liability was attached to the settlement proposal at issue. The court also said the release adequately specified the party against whom the driver was releasing liability and the event from which the release of liability arose.

Next, the court said a settlement offer is normally unenforceable if ambiguities require the parties to choose from more than one possible meaning. In addition, the court said a party’s willingness to negotiate the terms of a settlement offer does not typically render it vague and unenforceable in Florida. After discussing relevant case law, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held the estate’s settlement proposal was not overly vague or ambiguous. As a result, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order striking the settlement proposal and remanded the case for further consideration.

If you were hurt or a treasured loved one was killed in a South Florida car accident, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your rights. To schedule a free confidential consultation with a hardworking Miami personal injury lawyer, contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. online or call us at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Wallen v. Tyson, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2015

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Photo Credit: Jusben, MorgueFile

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