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Florida Fourth DCA rules that proposal for settlement containing erroneous settlement amount was void because it was not authorized by client

On August 19, 2020, in Dale v. Schaub et al., No. 4D19-900, the Florida Fourth DCA reversed a trial court ruling that denied a plaintiff’s motion to withdraw a proposal for settlement that erroneously offered to settle a motor vehicle personal injury case for $10,000 rather than the intended $100,000 limits of the insurance policy.  The error allegedly occurred because two proposals for settlement were sent out simultaneously, one to the insurance company for the defendant driver which provided insurance with a $100,000 BI limit and one to the plaintiff’s  UM insurance company which provided insurance with a $10,000 UM limit.  The plaintiff’s attorney realized the mistake when the defendant sent a check for $10,000 the next day.  Despite the obvious error, the trial court denied a motion to withdraw the proposal and later denied a motion for reconsideration which was based upon the fact that the attorney did not have authority from the client to settle the claim for $10,000. The Fourth DCA noted that in Florida, “a contract [can] be set aside on the basis of unilateral mistake unless (a) the mistake is the result of an inexcusable lack of due care or (b) the other party has so changed its position in reliance on the contract that rescission would be unconscionable, quoting from  BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Krathen, 471 So. 2d 585, 588 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985). The Fourth DCA concluded that while there appeared to be some negligence in the sending of the erroneous offer, this was the result of miscommunication between the paralegal and the plaintiff’s attorney, not inexcusable negligence. In addition, the Court concluded that the plaintiff’s attorney did not have authority for the client to make the erroneous offer. The Fourth DCA approvingly cited Nehleber v. Anzalone, 345 So. 2d 822 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977) for the proposition that settlement compromises not authorized by the client have no effect.

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