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Florida First DCA rules that liability release executed by plaintiffs in motor vehicle negligence was unenforceable because plaintiffs materially changed terms of defendant’s proposed release

On October 23, 2019, in Basner v. Bergdoll, No. 1D19-562, the Florida First DCA reversed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of two defendants in a motor vehicle negligence case. The trial court had granted the summary judgment motion because the plaintiffs, in exchange for the defendants’ insurance policy limits, had executed a release of the two defendants from any further liability. However, the release submitted by the defendants to the plaintiffs had required the release of a third party as well, the defendants’ son who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The plaintiffs had scratched out the son’s name, executed it and returned to the insurer with a handwritten inquiry asking if they had to release the son as well. They did not hear back from the insurer and a few months later returned the check and proceeded with the litigation, resulting in the summary judgment. The Florida First DCA concluded that the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment because there was no “meeting of the minds” between the parties, quoting Grant v. Lyons, 17 So. 3d 708, 710 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009): “without assent or the meeting of the minds as to the essential terms contained in an offer, there is no valid acceptance.”