Florida high court reverses appeals court ruling on time frame for accepting settlement in lawsuit

By Elizabeth Alt | May 24, 2018

The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling May 17 rejecting the 5th District Court of Appeal's decision to reverse a trial court’s ruling regarding the time frame for accepting a proposed settlement in a car accident injury lawsuit.

The unanimous opinion was written by Justices Jorge Labarga Barbara J. Pariente, Charles T. Canady, Ricky Polston, R. Fred Lewis and Alan Lawson.

Laura Ochoa filed suit against Donna Koppel after sustaining injuries from a car crash in 2011. In 2013 Ochoa served Koppel a proposed settlement of $100,000 that was required to be accepted within 30 days according to Florida Civil Procedure Rule 1.090. 

On Oct. 2, 2013, one day before the 30-day deadline, Koppel requested an extension claiming she needed time to review new medical evidence.

A court hearing on Dec. 2, 2013, did not issue a ruling but requested the parties to submit additional authorities. Koppel filed a request to accept the settlement on Dec. 3, 2013, one day after the hearing, which the trial court denied.

The trial court issued a ruling finding that “Ms. Koppel’s filing of a motion to enlarge time tolled the time she had to accept the settlement proposal, denied the motion to strike the notice of acceptance, and granted the motion to enforce settlement,” dismissing the suit without prejudice. 

Ochoa appealed, and the district court reversed the trial court ruling, stating that Rules 1.090 and 1.442 were “unambiguous in that neither contains language that could in any way be construed as providing that the time to accept a proposal for settlement is tolled when a motion to enlarge the time to do so is filed.”

The Supreme Court agreed with 2nd District Court of Appeals Judge Griffin’s statement that “allowing the time to accept an offer of settlement to toll once a motion to enlarge has been filed would appear to provide an automatic period of enlargement and seems to undermine the rule as it is currently written,” noting that in that scenario offerees could continue to request extensions without a showing of cause and the offering party would continue to rack up court costs.

The Supreme Court noted that “motions to enlarge are not granted without a showing of cause before the trial judge” and stated in the order that the 2nd District “was correct in its conclusion that the filing of a motion to enlarge pursuant to rule 1.090 does not toll the time to accept an offer of settlement made under section 768.79.”

The Supreme Court order affirmed the 2nd District holding that “the filing of a motion to enlarge the time to accept a proposal for settlement does not automatically toll the 30-day period for accepting the proposal,” dismissed the 5th District decision and remanded the case back to trial court for “reinstatement of respondent’s negligence action.”

Supreme Court of Florida, Case Number SC16-1474

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