Florida Court Rules on ‘Settlement’ in Florida Car Accident Case – Trout v. Apicella

In Trout v. Apicella, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal explains that in car accident cases, a settlement is not a settlement unless it includes a legally valid offer and acceptance.

Ryan Trout was riding in a truck driven by James Apicella and owned by Donald Medlar and was seriously injured when the truck was involved in a accident.

The truck was covered under Medlar’s Geico automobile insurance policy. Apicella also had a separate Geico car insurance policy. One day after the accident, Geico sent a letter to Trout with a $100,000 check made out to him and the hospital where he was being treated for his injuries enclosed. Upon Trout’s lawyer’s request, Geico later sent a detailed description of the coverage under the insurance policies. The second letter from Geico also included more money: two checks for $100,000, which the company said represented the limits of bodily injury coverage under both policies.

In response, Trout’s attorney sent a letter to Geico offering to release any bodily injury claims Trout might have against Apicella, Medlar and Geico in exchange for the $200,000. Geico, in turn, answered with a draft release which included a provision stating that Trout was releasing all claims against the parties. Trout viewed this as a rejection of his settlement offer and proceeded to file the present suit against Geico, Apicella and Medlar.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants, finding that the parties had settled the matter when Geico responded to Trout with the draft release agreement. On appeal, however, the Fifth District reversed the decision, finding that no settlement had been reached.

The court explained that settlement agreements are governed by contract law in Florida. Furthermore,

It is basic to Florida contract law that the acceptance of an offer that results in an enforceable agreement must be (1) absolute and unconditional; (2) identical with the terms of the offer; and (3) in the mode, at the place, and within the time expressly or impliedly stated within the offer.

In this case, according to the court, Geico’s asserted acceptance of Trout’s settlement offer did not mirror the offer. “The offer made clear that in order to accept the offer, Geico had to meet all of the terms of the offer, and only then would the bodily injury claim be settled,” the court found. Yet, instead of meeting all of the terms of the offer, Geico responded with its own settlement offer including different terms, according to the court.

The court reversed the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death in Florida and the United States. Drivers have a duty to safely operate their motor vehicles. Drivers breach that duty by endangering other motorists with their negligent conduct. When this happens, at-fault drivers become liable for any property damage or bodily injury “proximately caused” by their negligence.

If you were injured in a car accident, the experienced Florida auto accident attorneys of Anidjar & Levine can help. Representing clients throughout South Florida, including in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, we have helped many car accident victims obtain the compensation they deserve.

Related blog posts:

The Presumption of Negligence in a Multi-Car Rear End Accident – Shirey v. State Farm

Court: Paralyzed Car Accident Plaintiff Not Injured By Alleged Failure to Wear Seatbelt – Henry v. Hoelke

Causation In Florida Car Accident Litigation – Durse v. Henn