In Wallen v. Tyson, a Florida man was killed in a car accident. After the incident, the other motor vehicle driver filed a lawsuit against the decedent’s estate. The estate offered the driver a $12,000 settlement, which included a release of liability for all claims arising out of the accident. The document stated that it was not a ‘general’ release and indicated that the driver could seek damages from any person except for the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The driver supposedly ignored the settlement proposal and went straight to trial.
At trial, the driver was awarded an amount of $13,000. The court reduced this amount by approximately $3,800 for payments that were made beforehand by his insurer.
The plaintiff moved to strike the settlement proposal, alleging it was vague and unenforceable. The trial court struck the proposal, stating that the language pertaining to the release was too vague and ambiguous. The clause at issue was one that stated that the plaintiff was open to any suggested changes to the release. The trial court reasoned that by having a release clause but saying that the clause was negotiable, the clause essentially failed to inform the plaintiff of “any of the release terms.”
The decedent’s estate appealed the trial court’s decision striking the settlement proposal as being overly broad, vague, and ambiguous. The Fifth District disagreed with the lower court. The court noted that the release terms were detailed and sufficiently specified the party against whom the driver was releasing liability and the incident from which the release of liability arose.
Typically, proposals for settlement are not enforceable when there is an existing ambiguity that “creates a necessity for interpretation or a choice among two or more possible meanings,” as opposed to potential ambiguities that may occur in future revisions of the proposal. Furthermore, the court explained that the mere offer to negotiate the terms of an attached release does not render the settlement proposal vague to the extent that it is no longer enforceable.
The court also examined prior case law that held that proposals were specific and enforceable even when they contained language permitting the non-offering party to suggest changes to the attached releases. In sum, there was no precedent to support the trial court’s conclusion. In fact, the trial court’s decision would dissuade a party from offering to negotiate the terms and conditions of a settlement proposal.
Thus, the Fifth District reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case for further review.
At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our skilled Miami car accident attorneys aim to get every client the settlement they deserve for their harm. Settlement agreements are subject to certain drafting requirements, which are important to know. Our team has the knowledge, skill, and determination to handle virtually all types of personal injury cases. We will answer all your questions and address your concerns. We proudly represent clients throughout South Florida. For more information, feel free to call us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us online.
More Blog Posts:
Fatal Car Accidents in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, September 25, 2015
Falling Merchandise Injuries in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, August 31, 2015
Eleventh Circuit Makes Evidentiary Ruling in Florida Slip-and-Fall Case Involving Expert Testimony, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, August 31, 2015