Florida Appellate Court Rules Defendant in Personal Injury Accident Entitled to Award of Legal Fees Despite Verdict in Plaintiff’s Favor

A Florida appellate court recently issued a ruling interpreting Florida’s laws regarding settlement offers. The facts of Miley v. Nash are as follows. The plaintiff suffered injuries in a car accident in Florida. After the collision, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit naming the driver who allegedly caused the accident as a defendant in addition to the vehicle’s owner. The plaintiff’s husband also filed a loss of consortium claim, alleging that he suffered damages as a result of the injuries to his wife.

During pre-trial negotiations, the defendants offered over $58,000 as a settlement of the plaintiff’s claims. In exchange, the plaintiff would have to dismiss her claims against both defendants and cover her own legal expenses. Although the offer did not reference the husband’s loss of consortium claim, he later dropped this claim.

After rejecting the settlement offer, the case continued to trial, and the jury awarded the plaintiff roughly $18,000. Shortly thereafter, the defendants filed a joint request for attorney’s fees pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 768.79, which states that a plaintiff who obtains a judgment at least 25 percent lower than any written settlement offer he or she received may be required to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and legal expenses.

The trial court denied the motion for attorney’s fees on the basis that the pre-trial settlement offer failed to address the husband’s claim for loss of consortium damages, failed to specify the exact claims encompassed by the settlement, failed to sufficiently describe the conditions applied to the offer, and lacked a specific statement of the amount of the offer that was apportioned to each plaintiff.

According to the appellate court, the terms of the offer were sufficient only in terms of the personal injury claims that the wife included in her suit. As a result, the appellate court concluded that the offer was not intended to encompass the husband’s claim for loss of consortium. However, the appellate court added that the settlement offer did not need to encompass or even address the loss of consortium claim, despite its derivative nature. Had the plaintiff accepted the settlement, nothing prevented the husband from litigating his loss of consortium claim.

Ultimately, the appellate court concluded that the settlement offer contained sufficient particularities according to Florida law. It stated that Florida law did not require the defendants to specify the apportionment of the award in the written offer because the offer was made jointly and because the owner of the vehicle was solely liable for the accident, based on vicarious liability principles.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the suit.

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries as the result of a crash in the Southwest Florida region, the car accident lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help. Our team has provided experienced and dependable legal counsel to accident victims throughout Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers in a wide variety of motor vehicle collision cases. We offer a free consultation, so you have nothing to lose. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

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