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Ochoa v. Koppel – Florida Car Accident Settlement Offer Rules Challenged

In Florida personal injury lawsuits, it is common for one party or the other to issue a proposed settlement offer, pursuant to F.S. 768.79 and Rule 1.442.carcrashinsurance

The statute and rule set a hard, 30-day deadline for the other party to accept or reject the proposed settlement, and the settlement may be deemed rejected if the party does not respond to it. Assuming the proposal was made in good faith, the party who extended it may seek recovery of attorney fees if they later prevail in court (for defendants, if plaintiff receives at least 25 percent less than the proposed offer and for plaintiff, if judgment is at least 25 percent more than the amount of the offer). The whole purpose is to avoid or reduce backlog in the courts and encourage parties to save time and money by settling.

In the recent case of Ochoa v. Koppel, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal issued a decision pertaining to the length of time one has to accept or reject a settlement after requesting more time. The court decided that the 30-day limit is a strict one, and can’t be tolled while awaiting a decision from the trial court after requesting an extension. This decision directly contrasts with the ruling issued by Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal in Goldy v. Corbett Cranes Services, Inc. in 1997. The conflict was certified to the Florida Supreme Court.

According to court records in Ochoa, this was a car accident lawsuit stemming from a crash that occurred in 2011. Less than two years later, In April 2013, plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the alleged at-fault driver.

Then in September 2013, plaintiff served defendant with a proposal for settlement, pursuant to the aforementioned statute and rule. The proposal offered to dismiss the action with prejudice if defendant agreed to a lump sum payment of $100,000 to compensation plaintiff for her injuries. That proposal indicated that it would be deemed rejected if it was not accepted within 30 days after service. The proposal also indicated it would be withdrawn if not accepted within that time frame. Plaintiff also sent notice to the court that same day that the case was ready for trial.

One day before that 30-day time limit was up, defendant filed a motion seeking to enlarge the time in which to respond. She said she had just received through discovery results of a new MRI and plaintiff’s deposition hadn’t even been taken yet. The matter was set for a hearing on Dec. 2, 2013.

At that hearing, the court did not make a decision, but asked for more information to be received within 3 days. One day after the hearing, however, defendant responded to plaintiff with a notice of acceptance of the proposed settlement.

However at a subsequent hearing, the court denied defendant’s request to enlarge settlement. Plaintiff then filed a motion to strike the notice of acceptance of settlement as untimely. Defendant opposed the motion, citing Goldy. She argued the period of time she had to respond was tolled while awaiting the court’s decision on her request for enlargement. Trial court agreed and dismissed plaintiff’s lawsuit under the terms of the proposed settlement.

The 2nd DCA reversed. The court ruled that to offer automatic tolling when one files a motion for enlargement would be to give the party filing additional time than what is prescribed in the rule, and this is done without an exercise of judicial supervision or discretion until the motion is decided. Further, to hold that a motion to enlarge that 30-day period automatically tolls the time period would be to insert text into a judicial rule, and that is not the role of the court.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Ochoa v. Koppel, May 20, 2016, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Moreno v. City of Gering – Government Liability in Bus Accident, April 27, 2016, Miami Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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