Many Florida car accident cases do not make it to a trial in front of a selected jury. Often, the parties can reach a settlement agreement before a lawsuit is even filed, ideally to the satisfaction of both parties involved. The Fourth District recently reviewed a settlement agreement between an auto insurer and a plaintiff injured in a car accident. The injured person appealed the enforcement of a settlement agreement, arguing they did not have a “meeting of the minds,” or a mutual understanding of what was agreed upon, thus voiding the contract.
The defendant in the lawsuit was insured under a policy with a $25,000 limit for bodily injury per person, a $50,000 limit for bodily injury per accident, and a $10,000 limit for property damage. The injured person’s counsel submitted a demand letter to the insurance company, asking for the policy limits of $50,000 for bodily injury and $10,044 for property loss. The letter also requested an affidavit from the at-fault driver to establish she had no other insurance coverage available, along with a copy of the insurance policy. No release was included with this letter.
The auto insurer accepted the offer and provided the injured person with all of the requested documents. The insurer provided a proposed release and asked that it be signed by the injured person and his mother. The letter specified signing the release was not required for the case to settle and was not a counter offer or new terms. The injured person rejected the proposed release and requested a “standard” release. A second letter was issued by the insurer with two proposed releases. One was an edited version of the first release, and the other was a standard release created by a section of the Florida Bar.
The attached letter advised that a signature of one of the releases was preferred, but not required. The plaintiff replied by requesting two separate checks – one for the property damage and one for the $25,000 bodily injury limit, made out to the injured person’s mother. The auto insurer was directed to leave off the injured person’s name on the check, settlement draft, and release. The insurer responded that it thought the offer was accepted, but it agreed to modify the checks and settlement as desired.
The injured person then filed a negligence action against the at-fault party. The insurer responded to the filing by claiming the injured person was precluded from suing, due to the settlement reached between the parties. The insurer moved to enforce the agreement, arguing that it had accepted the injured person’s offer by complying with the essential terms. The trial court agreed, finding a settlement had been reached, and entered an order granting the motion to enforce and dismissal of the action. The injured person appealed.
Florida case law has established that settlement agreements are to be enforced whenever possible. The acceptance of an offer that results in a contract must be identical with the terms of the offer, unconditional, absolute, and within the timeframe expressly stated or implied in the offer. An auto insurer that accepts an offer can request signature of releases. If the release contains objectionable and unusual language, there is no true acceptance of the offer.
The appellate court found the insurer’s letter in response to the requests made by the injured person mirrored the conditions set within the offer. While a release was proposed, it expressly stated it was not a condition of settlement. The court felt this expression distinguished this lawsuit from prior cases assessed by appellate courts that determined settlement agreements to be void. In those cases, the language of the release was a large part of the offer for settlement. Since this did not factor into the conditions of the offer, the court found any objections were not detrimental to the insurance company’s acceptance. The trial court’s order was affirmed.
Car accident litigation experience matters. The Florida car accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the knowledge and understanding you need at your side. If you or a family member has been injured in an automobile accident, call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 for a free, confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016
Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016
Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017