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Accepting a Proposal for Settlement in a Case with Multiple Defendants May Not Resolve the Entire Matter
Lisandra Guerrero |
October 4, 2018
On October 4, 2018, in Allen v. Nunez, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion concerning proposals for settlement, which may be helpful in determining how best to phrase and consider proposals directed at multiple parties.
In the underlying matter, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver and the owner of a vehicle that collided with his truck, claiming damages for the cost of repairs, the truck’s post-repair diminution in value, and the loss of use of the truck.
The plaintiff subsequently served proposals for settlement in the amount of $20,000.00 to each defendant. The proposals contained identical language, except for the name to whom the proposal was directed. One paragraph in each of the proposals for settlement stated it was “made for the purpose of settling all claims made in this case by Plaintiff … against [D]efendant[.]” Neither defendant accepted the plaintiff’s proposal for settlement.
After obtaining a final judgment for $29,785.97, the plaintiff sought to recover his attorney’s fees. The defendants moved to strike the plaintiff’s proposals for settlement, arguing they were ambiguous since it was unclear whether the acceptance and payment by one defendant of the $20,000.00 sum would have resolved the case against one or both of the defendants. The trial court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor. However, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals found the proposals for settlement to be ambiguous and, therefore, unenforceable.
The Florida Supreme Court overruled the Fifth District, finding that the plaintiff’s proposals for settlement were unambiguous and enforceable for several reasons. Specifically, since each proposal for settlement used the singular term “Plaintiff,” and indicated the defendant to whom it was directed, the Court ruled that the only reasonable interpretation was that each proposal for settlement affected only those parties named.
In light of the Allen decision, proposals for settlement served by a plaintiff in a case involving multiple defendants should be carefully scrutinized. Unless the language of the specific proposal for settlement states otherwise, the acceptance of a proposal for settlement issued by a plaintiff to only one defendant in a case involving multiple defendants may mean that all of the plaintiff’s claimed damages against the other defendant survive. In other words, acceptance of the proposal for settlement may not resolve the entire matter.
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