In Am. Home Assur. Co. v. D’Agostino, Case No. 4D15-2148 (Fla. 4th DCA. Jan. 4, 2017), the defendant prevailed at trial after a jury verdict of no liability. The defendant then moved for attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Florida Statute § 768.79 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion on the grounds that the proposal for settlement did not strictly comply with rule 1.442. The trial court found that the proposal failed to comply with rule 1.442 by 1) stating that it would resolve all “claims” instead of “damages” in the action, and 2) failing to state “whether attorney’s fees are part of the legal claim.”
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in invalidating the proposal for settlement because the use of the word “claims” instead of “damages” did not render the proposal ambiguous. Specifically, the use of the word “claims” did not make the proposal ambiguous because there were no other claimed benefits at issue besides UM benefits. The defendant also argued that it was unnecessary to state whether attorney’s fees were part of the legal claim in the proposal because the plaintiff’s complaint did not request attorney’s fees.
The Fourth District initially affirmed the trial court’s decision. However, the Fourth District granted the defendant’s motion for rehearing and withdrew its opinion.
The Fourth District explained that the proposal for settlement was not ambiguous because there were no other claims at issue. While the plaintiff argued that it was ambiguous because it was unclear whether claims for available Med Pay and PIP benefits would be waived, the Court noted that the plaintiff did not plead in the complaint entitlement to Med Pay or PIP benefits. Thus, the use of the word “claims” instead of “damages” could not have reasonably affected the plaintiff’s decision to accept or deny the proposal.
In regards to whether the proposal was required to state whether attorney’s fees were part of the claim, the Fourth District explained that this issue had now been resolved by the Florida Supreme Court in Kuhajda v. Borden Dairy Co., 2016 Fla. LEXIS 2334 (Fla. 2016). In Kuhajda, the Court held that if attorney’s fees are not sought in the pleadings, an offer of settlement is not invalid for failing to state whether the proposal includes attorney’s fees and whether attorney’s fees are part of the legal claim. As a result, the Fourth District held that the defendant’s proposal was not invalid for failing to state whether attorney’s fees were part of the claim since the plaintiff’s complaint did not request attorney’s fees.
Click on the link below to read Pt. II of:
Appellate Update – Fourth District Issues Two New Decisions Enforcing Proposals for Settlements
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