Under Florida Statute §768.79 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442, parties in civil lawsuits are entitled to make Proposals for Settlements to the opposition. A Proposal for Settlement involves making a formal offer in writing to the other side to settle a case for a certain dollar amount. If the offeree does not accept the settlement offer within 30 days and the case proceeds to a trial and jury verdict, he or she can be liable for the attorneys’ fees and costs of the prevailing party offeror. The topic of Proposals for Settlement has led to a plethora of appellate decisions regarding their enforceability. This is largely due to the fact that there is no standard form issued by either the Florida Supreme Court of the legislature. This means the parties have to draft their own Proposals for Settlement and the courts have to determine on a case-by-case basis whether they are enforceable as written.
One recent appellate decision on a Proposal for Settlement, Miley v. Nash, provided guidance to practitioners on drafting these documents. In Miley, Martha Nash sued the Defendants for personal injuries that stemmed from an automobile accident. Her husband, Garfield Nash, brought a claim for loss of consortium. The Nash’s alleged that Kyle Miley, while driving a vehicle owned by Glenn Miley, negligently caused the subject car crash.
Prior to trial, the Defendant, Kyle Miley, made a Proposal for Settlement to the Plaintiff, Martha Nash, in the amount of $58,590. The Proposal read that it was, “an attempt to resolve all claims and causes of action resulting from the incident or accident giving rise to this lawsuit brought by Plaintiff Martha Nash against Defendant Kyle Mylie.” The proposal required that Marsha Nash dismiss both Defendants but was completely silent as to Garfield Nash and the loss of consortium claim.
At trial, the jury returned a verdict for the Plaintiff, but only for $17,955. As the verdict was more than 25% lower than the Defendant’s Proposal for Settlement, he was entitled to recoup his attorneys’ fees and costs from the Plaintiff. However, the trial court denied the Defendant’s Motion for Entitlement to Attorneys’ Fees and Costs. The trial court found that the Defendant’s Proposal for Settlement failed to strictly comply with Fla. Stat. §768.79 and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.442, and thus it was unenforceable.
On appeal, the District Court of Appeal for the Second District of Florida overturned the trial court and ruled that the Proposal for Settlement was indeed enforceable under Florida law. The Second DCA addressed each of the Plaintiff’s arguments against enforcement one by one. Per the appellate court, the Proposal for Settlement sufficiently identified the claims to be resolved; general statements such as “all claims and causes of action resulting from the incident or accident” have been found to be enforceable. See e.g. D.A.B. Constructors, Inc. v. Oliver, 914 So. 2d 462 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005). While the Plaintiff argued that such language could be construed as affecting the loss of consortium claim, the Second DCA reasoned that the proposal was only sent to Ms. Nash, so it could not have reasonably been interpreted to affect Mr. Nash’s claim.
Perhaps most informative was the Second DCA’s posture in rejecting Plaintiff’s argument that the proposal was unenforceable because it required dismissal of both Defendants but did not state the amount and terms attributable to each. The Plaintiffs relied on Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442(c)(3) which requires that a joint proposal shall state the amount and terms attributable to each party. The appellate court ruled that it is perfectly fine for one defendant to file a proposal to one plaintiff that requires a dismissal of multiple defendants. Per the Second DCA: “Requiring dismissal of Glenn Miley by Martha Nash did not render the proposal joint or invalidate it in any other way; it was merely a condition attached to acceptance of the offer.” The proposal was from one offeror, Kyle Miley, to one offeree, Martha Nash; it did not require any action on the part of either Glenn Miley or Garfield Nash.
The lesson to be learned here is that Proposals for Settlement can be made from one offeror to one offeree and require the dismissal of multiple parties without attributing a dollar amount to each. In light of this opinion, it appears that on the plaintiff side, one can issue a Proposal for Settlement from one plaintiff to one defendant in which it offers to dismiss any and all claims against multiple defendants with prejudice. This can certainly be useful in bad faith scenarios where you can offer the insurer the opportunity to secure multiple dismissals by accepting one Proposal for Settlement.
For your auto accident, premises liability or medical malpractice legal needs, contact The Grife Law Firm for a free consultation. We litigate frequently in Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, St. Lucie County and throughout Florida.