Appellate Update – In Cases Involving Multiple Defendants, A Plaintiff’s Proposal for Settlement is Ambiguous if it does not Clearly Identify the Damages and the Defendants Against which the Claim will be Resolved

July 1, 2016 by on News

Nunez v. Allen, Case No. 5D14-4386 (Fla. 5th DCA June 24, 2016) involved a motor vehicle accident where a son was operating a vehicle owned by his father. The Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging negligence against the son and vicarious liability against the father. The Plaintiff served a proposal for settlement on the father, which stated as follows:

3. This Proposal for Settlement is made for the purpose of settling any and all claims made in this cause by Plaintiff, W. RILEY ALLEN, against defendant, JAIRO RAFAEL NUNEZ.

4. That in exchange for TWENTY THOUSAND AND 00/100 DOLLARS ($20,000.00) in hand paid from defendant, JAIRO RAFAEL NUNEZ, Plaintiff agrees to settle any and all claims asserted against Defendant as identified in Case Number 2010-CA-25627-0, brought in and for the Circuit Court in and for Orange County, Florida.

5. This Proposal for Settlement is inclusive of all damages claimed by Plaintiff, W. RILEY ALLEN, including all claims for interest, costs, and expenses and any claims for attorney’s fees.

A similar proposal was served upon the son.  The father and son rejected the proposal and proceeded to trial.

The Plaintiff prevailed at trial and sought to enforce his proposals for settlement.  The father and son moved to strike the proposals arguing that the proposal was ambiguous as to whether acceptance and payment of one of the $20,000 proposals would have resolved the case against both father and son, or just the individual accepting the proposal. The trial court found the proposals were clear and unambiguous. The father and son appealed.

The Fifth District reversed finding the ambiguity within the proposals reasonably affected the father’s and son’s decision to accept the proposal. The Court specifically noted that paragraph five was ambiguous as it could arguably have referred to all damages that could have been imposed on both the father and the son. The Court found that the proposal would not have been ambiguous if it included language indicating that the proposal was inclusive of all damages claimed by the appellee against the individually named appellant.   Because of the ambiguity, the court reversed the fee award.

If you have any questions about this case or would like to refer an appellate matter, please contact our appellate attorneys.

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Loreyn P. Raab
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