Florida Supreme Court Rules: An Offer You Can Refuse

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 settlement offers.

Florida’s Rules on Settlement Offers

The main issue in this new ruling surrounds 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.

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