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Florida Supreme Court rules that plaintiff's proposals for settlement to defendants were valid

On October 4, 2018, in Allen v. Nunez, No. SC14-1164, the Florida Supreme Court resolved a conflict among Florida DCAs, concluding that the Fifth DCA erred in its determination that a plaintiff’s identical proposals for settlement to two defendants were fatally ambiguous because they did not specifically address whether the proposal included an agreement to dismiss the claim against the codefendant. The case involved a property damage claim made by a motor vehicle owner against both the driver and the owner of another vehicle. The plaintiff served identical proposals for settlement on each defendant offering to settling and all claims made against the named defendant for $20,000. No mention was made of the resolution of the claims against the other defendant. Neither defendant accepted the proposal and the plaintiff subsequently obtained a jury verdict of $29,785.97. The trial court denied the defendants’ motions to strike the proposals for settlement as being fatally ambiguous and awarded $343,590 in legal fees. The Fifth DCA reversed, seizing on the last paragraph of the proposals for settlement, which states that the proposal is “inclusive of all damages claimed by the plaintiff.” The Fifth DCA concluded that this phrase rendered the proposal ambiguous as to whether the plaintiff intended to release both defendants. The Florida Supreme Court acknowledged that a proposal “must be sufficiently clear of ambiguity to allow the offeree the opportunity to consider the proposal,” but stressed that only “reasonable ambiguities,” defined as ambiguities which could reasonably affect the offeree’s decision, are fatal. The Court noted that it had recently rejected an argument that an almost identical settlement proposal was fatally ambiguous. See Anderson v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 202 So. 3d 846 (Fla. 2016). The Second DCA has also upheld similar proposals. See Miley v. Nash, 171 So. 3d 145 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015); Bright House Networks, LLC v. Cassidy, 242 So. 3d 456 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018).

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