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Florida Supreme Court Rules on Negligence Case

The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that was originally started in the late 90s. The case moved its way through the trial phase, to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, and has now been concluded. At issue in was the applicability of Florida’s Offer of Settlement and Demand for Judgement rules in a case involving more than one defendant. Interestingly, the Florida Supreme Court reversed both lower courts, and set new precedent that will apply to future cases involving offers of settlement.

The judgment was welcome news to the plaintiff in the case who for the last 19 years has tried to move on with his life. The plaintiff was injured after a botched medical procedure, and in his effort to recover for the damages, has been saddled with years and years of additional paperwork, court dates, and headaches. Now both parties will be able to move on and have some closure in their lives.

Florida’s Offer for Settlement and Demand for Judgment Rules

The Florida Supreme Court was tasked with determining how and when a plaintiff must pay reasonable attorney’s fees and costs under Florida Statutes 768.79. That section of the statutes says that when a plaintiff in a case receives an offer to settle a case prior to trial, and refuses the offer, the plaintiff must pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees and costs if the plaintiff loses the trial. The logic of the rule is evident; it is an effort to increase the number of settlements in order to free up precious court resources. But it does put an increased amount of pressure on a plaintiff who may not be inclined to settle, but feels forced because of the risk of losing. The rule can help plaintiffs as well, though.

The same rule can be used by the plaintiff in a case. If, before trial, a plaintiff demands a judgment from the defendant, and the defendant refuses to pay but then loses the trial with an an award that is at least 25% greater than the demand, the defendant must pay the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. What often times happens before trial is a chess match between sides. Both sides try to figure out how much to offer so that it will tip the balance in their favor and hedge the chance of a loss at trial. The key in both instances is that the offer must be reasonable, and it must be written and filed with the court.

The Case at Hand

The main issue in this case was more complicated because of the parties involved, and because of what happened at trial. As discussed earlier, the plaintiff in the case was injured during a procedure that he had at a hospital. After the injury he sued both the doctor and the hospital for the damages that he incurred. Leading up to trial, the hospital defendant made an offer of settlement to the plaintiff for $10,000, but the plaintiff refused the offer. At trial, the plaintiff won an award against the doctor for $750,000, but lost to the hospital. Naturally, the hospital wanted their attorney’s fees and costs of $500,000 paid because they won and the plaintiff refused their offer of settlement.

Both the trial court and the appeals court ruled that the plaintiff had to pay the fees. But the plaintiff appealed to the Florida Supreme Court because, as he saw it, the hospital’s offer was made as if it was from both the doctor and the hospital. And, of course, the doctor lost at trial.

The Supreme Court of Florida agreed. According to the Court, the offer made by the hospital was a joint offer with the other party in the case, and, as a result, the plaintiff was not liable under the rules as written. This is a big lesson and example of how important details are in a case. The attorneys at Alan Goldfarb, P.A. pay attention to the details of every case, and are ready to represent victims of injuries in the Miami area. Contact us so we can evaluate your case now.

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