A large number of Florida premises liability cases are resolved through pre-trial settlement negotiations. Indeed, settling a personal injury case is preferable for many plaintiffs, who do not want to risk taking the case to trial, which may result in a defense verdict or an inadequate award amount. However, settlement agreements should be treated with caution. A recent appellate opinion discusses how one plaintiff’s execution of an overly broad settlement agreement actually dismissed multiple defendants from the case, despite her lack of intention to do so.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident that occurred outside an auto parts store. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, an employee of the auto parts store had recently mowed the lawn in front of the store and failed to clean up the grass clippings.
As it turns out, there was a recessed area in the pavement where a utility box sat. The grass clippings covered up this recessed area, and as the plaintiff walked past, she stepped in the hole, causing her to fall and sustain serious injuries.
The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the auto part store, the city, and the utility commission that placed and maintained the utility box. The case proceeded toward trial against all three defendants, but before reaching trial, the plaintiff entered into a settlement agreement with the city as well as the auto parts store. The plaintiff’s agreement with the city stated that she would forever discharge the case against the city and its “successors, agents, attorneys, insurers, subsidiaries, sister or parent companies, assigns, employees, representatives, stockholders.”
After the two settlement agreements were executed, the case proceeded toward trial against the utility commission alone. However, in a pre-trial motion, the utility commission asked the court to dismiss the case against it, arguing that it was a division of the city and that it was excused from the lawsuit when the plaintiff excused the city.
The plaintiff responded by explaining that it was not her intention to release the utility commission from liability and that the court should not hold this mistake against her. However, the court noted that the language in the agreement was clear and that if the utility commission was a division of the city, it was included in the agreement.
In making the determination of whether the utility commission was indeed a division of the government, the court looked at the plain meaning of the word “subsidiary,” finding that the utility commission fit within that definition. Additionally, the court considered the plaintiff’s own complaint, which referred to the commission as a “municipal commission.” Thus, the court held that the plaintiff had actual knowledge that the utility commission was a division of the government and should have expected this result when executing the agreement with the city.
Have You Been Injured in a South Florida Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a South Florida slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled Florida injury attorneys at the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank have extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of South Florida accident cases, including slip-and-fall accidents and other cases naming local government entities as defendants. Call 877-448-8787 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated South Florida personal injury attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Determining Damages in South Florida Car Accidents, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published September 21, 2017.
Nursing Home Claims Privilege in Face of Plaintiff’s Discovery Request, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published October 5, 2017.