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Florida Third DCA finds defendant UM insurer's proposal for settlement was fatally ambiguous because of discrepancies between proposal and attached release

On June 28, 2017, in Dowd v. Geico General Insurance Company, No. 3D15-1725, the Florida Third DCA reversed a trial court order awarding attorney’s fees pursuant to two proposals for settlement submitted to the plaintiff by the defendant insurance carrier in a UM action, finding that the proposals for settlement were fatally ambiguous because the attached releases were broader than the language of the proposals. The proposals purported to release the defendant regarding the affirmative claims made by the plaintiff in the complaint as well as any other claims that could have been raised by the plaintiff as “compulsory” claims in the action. The attached releases were broader, releasing the defendant regarding any claims “in connection with any of the issues that were raised or could have been raised in the case. The Court noted that plaintiff may still have had a viable PIP claim against Geico and it is unclear under the terms of the releases whether such a claim was intended to be included among the claims being released. While the PIP claim was not a “compulsory” explicitly referred to in the proposals as subject to release, the Court determined that it could fall under the umbra of the broader release language. The Third DCA held that a discrepancy between a limited proposal of settlement and a much broader release, as in this case, creates the type of ambiguity that runs afoul of the particularity requirement in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442. Citing S. Fla. Pool and Spa Corp. v. Sharpe Inv. Land Tr., 207 So. 3d 301, 303 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016) (holding that where it was unclear when reading a proposal for settlement in tandem with its accompanying release whether a claim for fees was included or excluded from the settlement, the “lack of clarity creates an ambiguity rendering the proposal unenforceable”).

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