Thursday, April 16, 2009

Proposal for Settlement Valid Beyond Thirty Days

In another opinion relating to a proposal for settlement, the Fourth DCA disagreed with the appellants argument that a request for an extension of time to accept the offer invalidates the offer. In Baratta v. Bradford Electric, Inc. (4D08-968) the court held that nothing prevents an offeree from accepting an untimely acceptance. As long as there is an offer, acceptance and meeting of the minds the settlement is binding. A brief explanation of proposals for settlement and the holding are below:

Bradford made its offer of settlement by referring to section 768.79 and rule 1.442. Although the plain meaning of the statute and the rule of procedure clearly contemplate strict compliance, the statute and the rule implementing the statute apply only when there has been a rejection of a proposal for settlement and the case goes to trial resulting in a judgment. Depending upon which party is making the proposal for settlement, if the final judgment is either twenty-five percent less or twenty-five percent more than the proposal for settlement, only then are the sanctions of attorney’s fees and costs applicable. See § 768.79.

As noted in Wright v. Caruana, 640 So. 2d 197 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994), neither section 768.79 nor rule 1.442 prevents an offeree from actually accepting an untimely offer and avoiding trial. Rather, it me rely prevents the offer from later serving as a basis for an award of costs and attorney’s fees under the statute. Id. at 198-99; accord Hanzelik v. Grottoli & Hudon Inv. of Am., Inc., 687 So. 2d 1363, 1366 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997). In the instant case, there were exchanges of offers and counter offers and a final acceptance by Baratta. There is substantial, competent evidence to support the trial court’s determination that there was a meeting of the minds. An offer and acceptance took place and, therefore, the settlement should be enforced.


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