In Florida, parties to civil cases may make an “offer of judgment”, which is a proposed settlement after the law suit has been filed. When the defendant in a case files the offer of judgment, and the plaintiff fails to accept it within 30 days, then the defendant may recover attorney’s fees if the case ultimately results in a judgment that is less than 75% of the offer of judgment that was declined. Florida Rules of Civil Procedure requires that conditions and nonmonetary terms must be stated with particularity.
Where does the offer of judgment rule come from?
The offer of judgment was created by Florida Statute and is intended to provide an avenue for out of court settlement in civil cases. The statute aims to encourage reasonable settlement offers by penalizing parties who unreasonably reject offers and cause cases to go to trial. Under Florida Statutes, offers must be unambiguous and clearly stated in a way that it is sufficiently clear enough to allow the opposing party to make an informed decision without seeking clarification. The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Florida grappled with the issue of whether or not these criteria were met in the case of Mathis v. Cook.
Appellate Interpretation of the law
In Mathis v. Cook, the trial court found for the defendants in a case where a woman slipped on floor cleaner and sustained injuries in a drug store. In response to be sued, the husband-owner of the drug store filed an offer of judgment that would release himself, his wife, and the cleaning company as the three defendants in the case. The plaintiff failed to accept the offer and the jury found the husband and wife were not negligent. The husband filed a motion for attorney’s fees and the trial court denied his motion finding that his proposed offer of judgement was ambiguous. The Husband appealed the trial court’s decision.
On appeal, the Fifth District found that the releases contained in the order that was submitted by the husband were sufficiently clear enough to allow the plaintiff to make an informed decision without seeking clarification. The court held that the proposals provided by the order met the required criteria under Florida Statues and were thus enforceable. The Fifth District ultimately reversed the trial courts denial of the husband’s motion for attorney fees and remanded the decision.
Having an Experienced Attorney in Florida makes all the Difference when Dealing with Offers of Judgment
The case of Mathis v. Cook illustrates the importance of hiring an experienced personal injury attorney when offers of judgment are involved. The right attorney can help their client in determining the reasonableness of a settlement offer and whether it meets the criteria that is required by Florida Statues. When seeking representation in any legal matter, it is important to seek an experienced attorney that is willing to take the time to guide inform you of all of the important decisions in your case. Hiring an attorney that has experience dealing with offers of judgment can be instrumental in making sure that you receive the judgment that you deserve.