Under Florida law, a prevailing party in a personal injury case may be entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs if that party filed a settlement offer that meets certain requirements, and the offer was not accepted by the other party. The First District recently considered whether an insurer was liable for attorneys’ fees and costs awarded to the plaintiff after a jury awarded her more than four times the amount of her settlement proposal in Government Employees Insurance Company v. Macedo.
The insurer appealed a judgment requiring it to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs. The insurer had rejected the plaintiff’s $50,000 settlement proposal. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding more than four times her settlement proposal. The plaintiff joined the insurer to the judgment and sought fees and costs. The trial court awarded fees and costs against the insurer and its insured jointly and severally. The insurer appealed.
The appeals court looked to its decision in a similar previous case, as well as other Florida District Court cases. The insurance policy gave the insurer the sole right to litigate and settle claims. Additionally, the policy required the insurer to pay for “all investigative and legal costs incurred by us” and “all reasonable costs incurred by an insured at our request.” The policy did not exclude costs or fees awarded to the plaintiff, nor did it define legal or other costs. The court found that since the insurer is the party that chooses whether to litigate, costs arising from the litigation, including those incurred by a prevailing opposing party, are incurred at the insurer’s request. The insurer is therefore liable for those costs pursuant to the policy. The court affirmed the judgment holding the insurer jointly and severally liable with the insured for the plaintiff’s fees and costs.
The First District also certified a conflict with the Second District’s decision in Steele v. Kinsey. In Steele, the Second District interpreted similar policy language requiring the insurer to pay “expenses incurred at our request.” The Second District found that language to be “clear on its face…” Looking to the dictionary definition and the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of “request,” the Second District found that the language intended for the insurer to pay for the expenses over which it had control, such as the selection of a service or product. That court rejected the argument that the insurer’s decision to continue to litigate amounted to a request to incur the plaintiff’s fees and costs.
It is therefore not certain at this time whether this type of policy language will cover the attorneys’ fees and costs of a prevailing plaintiff. Some Florida appeals courts, including the First District, have found that it does, but the Second District has found the opposite.
If you have been seriously hurt in a car wreck, an experienced Florida automobile accident attorney can help you. At Anidjar & Levine, we understand Florida law and how it is applied in Florida courts. Call us at (800) 747-3733, or submit an online contact form.
Related Blog Posts:
Image: FreeImages.com/ivan freaner