Before a trial, there are many instances of communication that occur between the injured party and the defendant’s auto insurer. Sometimes a defendant’s insurer will offer to provide the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Benefits or an amount within the policy limits early in the negotiating phase of the process. These settlement agreements often come with language requiring the party accepting funds to waive their right to pursue a civil action related to the matter at hand. A recent Third District Court of Appeal decision (No. 3d17-891) covers the considerations an party injured in a Florida car accident should make when discussing a settlement.
In this lawsuit, a party injured in a car accident filed suit against the policy holder. The defendant’s auto insurer sought permission to intervene so that it could seek enforcement of a settlement agreement it believed had been reached between the injured person and the defendant before a personal injury action was filed. The plaintiff was injured on December 24, 2013, treated at a hospital, and discharged in January. Soon afterward, the defendant’s auto insurer sent a letter to the injured person’s counsel, offering to provide the $10,000 bodily injury policy limit to settle the claim against the insured. The letter included a check and a standard release payable to the injured person, his attorney, and the treating hospital. The insurer provided an explanation for its inclusion of the hospital, stating it noticed a lien for the provided medical services. The injured person and his counsel did not respond, nor did they cash the check.
In the following year, the injured person retained a new attorney, who notified the insurer he was the counsel of record and presented a demand for the full policy limits. The attorney requested a settlement draft to his office by the end of the month, and the insurer indicated its willingness to comply and accept modifications to the letter. Another letter was sent, similar to the first one, with a check payable to the injured person, the attorney, and the hospital. The new attorney believed the payment to be a counteroffer, since it included the hospital as a joint payee, and rejected the settlement payment. The insurer and attorney continued to exchange communications, debating about whether or not a settlement had been reached. The insurer issued two more checks with the hospital removed as a co-payee. The injured person rejected both payments. The insurer then filed a motion to enforce the settlement. The matter was heard, and the insurer’s motion was granted to dismiss the lawsuit against the at-fault driver with prejudice, subject to the terms of the settlement agreement. The injured person appealed.