ATLANTA —A Georgia appeals court recently determined whether a case was settled when the settlement checks did not arrive on time.
The case, Grange Mutual Casualty Company v. Boris Woodard and Susan Woodard, was remanded from the Georgia Supreme Court to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
The case arises from an automobile crash that happened in March of 2014, in which Boris Woodard was injured and his daughter, Anna, was killed when their vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by Thomas Dempsey, according to court records.
Grange Mutual Casualty insured Dempsey's car, with bodily injury liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. Settlement negotiations commenced and the Woodards offered to settle for the policy limits of $100,000. Grange Mutual Casualty accepted the settlement offer, court records state. However, the Woodard family maintained that since insurer didn’t comply fully with the terms of the offer it was never actually accepted.
Georgia case law O.C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1 is a new statute still subject to being interpreted by the court, and it’s at the heart of this issue. It addresses settlement offers for personal injury and death cases. The recipient of an offer of settlement has 30 days to accept it. The Woodards sent very specific terms of the settlement in their offer to Dempsey. Grange Mutual Casualty issued settlement checks in the matter, but the checks didn’t arrive by the deadline due to a clerical error, according to court documents.
Grange Mutual Casualty filed a complaint against the Woodards in October 2014. The district court sided with the Woodards and granted summary judgment, noting that there was never a valid settlement contract.
“The district court concluded that O.C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1 does not prohibit a party from requiring a payment as a condition of acceptance of a settlement offer,” the 11th Circuit wrote in its opinion.
The Woodards had made timely payment of the settlement money a condition, but when the money was not paid within the required time period, there was no binding settlement agreement, the court wrote.
The appeals court affirmed the summary judgment to the Woodards and concluded that because the checks didn’t arrive on time, “the Insurer Grange failed to accept the Woodards’ settlement offer, thus preventing the formation of a binding settlement agreement.”
The case was heard by Circuit Court Judges Frank Hull and Susan Black and Southern District of Florida Judge Federico A. Moreno.