A recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court will shape how settlement
offers are evaluated in the future. The case involved dates back to an accident
and injury lawsuit from the late 90s, but is only now completely resolved.
This is an important decision for the impact it will have on not only
accident and injury cases in the future, but on all cases that involve
Florida’s Rules on Settlement Offers
The main issue in this new
Florida Statutes 768.79, known as the offer of judgement rule. Essentially, that rule acts a tool
for the defendant in the case by making a plaintiff think seriously about
taking an offer once made. Under the rule, when a defendant makes an offer
to settle a case, and the plaintiff refuses the offer but then loses the
case, the plaintiff must pay the defendant’s reasonable attorney
costs. You can see how this is a tool, and how it can work as a hedge
for the defendant. It also comes at little risk, depending on the likelihood
of the plaintiff accepting the offer.
But the same rule also offers a tool to the plaintiff in any case. On the
flipside, a plaintiff can file a written demand for judgement from the
defendant. If the defendant refuses to accept the demand, and then loses
the case with a jury award at least 25% greater than the offer, then the
defendant must pay the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees and
costs. What the rule does, in essence, is create a chess match before
trial against opposing sides.
Supreme Court’s Ruling
In the case at hand, there were two defendants and one plaintiff. The plaintiff
was injured after a botched medical procedure, and as a result he sued
the doctor and the hospital. Prior to trial, the hospital made an offer
of settlement for $10,000, which the plaintiff refused. At trial, the
jury awarded the plaintiff an award of $750,000 against the doctor, but
declined to find the hospital liable in any way. So, under the offer of
judgment rule, the hospital expected to be paid their attorney’s
fees and costs because the plaintiff refused their offer of settlement.
The trial court and appeals court both agreed with the hospital in this
case, but Florida’s Supreme Court did not. The main reason why the
plaintiff did not have to pay the attorney’s fees under the rule
is because the hospital couched their offer terms as a joint offer instead
of an offer from the hospital alone. That meant, according to the court,
that since the plaintiff won his case against the doctor, he would not
be liable for fees or costs of the hospital. This ruling clarifies the
issue for future litigants when it comes to offers for settlement and
demands for judgment.
Panama City Accident and Injury Attorney Can Help You
The Pittman Firm is experienced in every aspect of accident and injury
law. From initial case evaluation, to offers of settlement, and up to trial,
Wes Pittman is the Panama City accident and injury attorney of choice. If you have
been injured in an accident,
contact us so we can evaluate your case for you.