Florida – Appellate Court Holds There Was an Acceptance to a Settlement Offer

Matthew Martin suffered serious injuries from a car accident with Raymond Consul that left him in a vegetative state. Martin was a passenger in Consul’s car. The accident occurred on September 20, 2010. Consul had a policy of insurance with Geico that provided $10,000.00 in bodily injury coverage. In August 2011 Geico, believing Martin’s father Michael Martin held power of attorney, tendered the settlement check for the limits and obtained an executed release. In January 2012 Geico contacted Michael Martin’s attorney for documentation that he had the legal authority to represent his son. The attorney advised she had no such documents. Geico took no further action.

On July 15, 2013 Mark Chmielewski was appointed plenary guardian of Martin. When learning Geico had tendered to Martin’s father, Chmielewski retained an attorney and authorized counsel to make an offer to Geico to settle Martin’s claim against Consul. Counsel sent letter to Geico dated November 26, 2013 informing Geico the settlement to the father was unauthorized. The letter indicated that plaintiff would accept policy limits of $10,000.00 to resolve the claim and a release would be executed. The offer was to remain open for fourteen (14) days.

On December 10, 2013 (14 days later) at 5:01 p.m. Geico faxed a letter to plaintiff’s counsel seeking an extension to respond to the offer. At 5:42 p.m. Geico sent a second fax to counsel agreeing to tender the policy limits. A Geico field representative went to counsel’s office between 7:00 and 7:15 p.m. to deliver the check but the doors were locked. The representative returned the following day and delivered the check. Plaintiff refused the check, stating the offer for acceptance expired at 5:00 p.m. the day before. Plaintiff filed suit and defendant asserted accord and satisfaction as an affirmative defense. The trial denied summary judgment on accord and satisfaction. A jury awarded plaintiff $14,399,363.05.

On appeal the Second DCA reversed finding that there was an acceptance of the offer to settle. The court found that settlement agreements are governed by the law of contracts. The acceptance of the offer must be unconditional and identical with the terms of the offer. The court found that while it is reasonable for plaintiff’s counsel to close his office at 5:00 p.m., since the offer did not indicate a specific time on the fourteenth day when the offer would expire the court could not read such a limitation into the offer. Giving ordinary meaning to the offer’s time provision of “fourteen days from the date of this letter”, Geico had the full twenty-four hours on December 10, 2013 to accept the offer. The court found that Geico’s actions on December 10, 2013 were sufficient to accept the offer. The appellate court reversed the final judgment.

H. Greg Lee, personal representative of the Estate of Raymond Consul, deceased v. Mark Chmielewski, as court appointed guardian for Matthew Martin (Appeal from Sarasota County Circuit Court: 2D-4275).


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