The first DCA recently ruled that a settlement proposal in a medical malpractice case was invalid, because it was conditioned upon joint acceptance by both plaintiffs.
After receiving a defense verdict, the defendants at issue successfully sought costs and attorneys’ fees from the trial court, pursuant to Florida’s Offer of Judgment Statute, Section 768.79(1), Fla. Statutes. Section 768.79(1) provides that a defendant is entitled to recover fees and costs where the defendant has offered a settlement amount that is rejected by the plaintiff, and the defendant is subsequently found not liable, or found liable for an amount that is at least 25 percent less than the defendant’s settlement offer.
In the case at issue, the terms of the settlement proposal stated the specific amounts that each party would receive, and there was no specific language stating that either plaintiff could not accept the settlement without the co-plaintiff joining. As such, the defendants argued that the plaintiffs were able to independently evaluate the settlement offer and had adequate notice that they could settle their claims individually.
The First DCA disagreed. The Court noted that, while the language of the proposal was not as “direct” in its language requiring mutual agreement, the proposal did contain language stating that, “If this Proposal for Settlement is not accepted in writing in thirty (30) days of service, it shall be deemed rejected by the Plaintiffs.” The Court held that this language was sufficient to create a requirement of joint acceptance. Citing the Florida Supreme Court decision of Attorneys’ Title Insurance Fund, Inc. v. Gorka, 36 So.3d 646 (Fla. 2010), the First DCA held that, “a settlement offer conditioned on joint acceptance … is the antithesis of a differentiated offer,” and concluded that the Gorka decision effectively eliminates the ability to make joint offers in Florida. Schantz v. Sekine, 2011 Fla. App. LEXIS 3892 (Fla. 1st DCA March 22, 2011).