Although people file personal injury lawsuits in Florida every day, only a very small percentage of these cases actually go to trial. One reason is because the parties often find that it is better to settle the matter – with the injured party agreeing to drop the suit, typically in exchange for a money payment – than to take on the time, cost and uncertainty involved in proceeding to trial. But, as the district court for the Middle District of Florida’s recent ruling in Braun v. Wal-Mart shows, settlement of a personal injury action does not necessarily solve all of the related issues. In many cases, there are bills to pay. The settlement funds may not be enough to pay them.
Christina Braun was injured when she slipped and fell at a Wal-Mart store in the Tampa Bay area. She sued the store for negligence in state court and the company removed the matter to federal court. While trial was pending, the parties reached a settlement agreement in which Wal-Mart agreed to pay Braun $90,000.
In August, Braun filed an unusual motion for equitable distribution. She asked the court to determine how the settlement money should be allocated to Braun’s medical service providers and the like, asserting that she already owed more money than she was set to recover from Wal-Mart.
While out of the ordinary, the Court explained that Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal considered a similar request in Tran v. Fragnoli in 2003. In that case, the plaintiff was injured on the defendant’s property and Pinellas County paid a large share of the plaintiff’s medical bills. When the parties to the suit settled the matter shortly before trial, the county demanded that plaintiff pay up. Since the settlement amount was less than the amount owed, she asked the court to order an equitable distribution of the funds.
In that case, the court declined the motion, ruling that it did not have jurisdiction over the county as it was not actually a party to the suit. In other words, the county was neither suing or being sued. It was simply a third party with an interest in the outcome of the case.
Based on the Tran ruling, the Court also concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over Braun’s medical service providers and thus could not consider her motion. “Braun’s motion cites no authority for the proposition that this Court should interfere with Braun’s private contractual obligations with the listed non-party creditors,” the Court said. As a result, the Court denied Braun’s motion.
As this case makes clear, there are a number of issues that a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit must consider before agreeing to a settlement, including whether the settlement amount is enough to cover expenses related to the accident and injury and how to allocate it among service providers. If you or someone you love has been injured in a slip and fall or was injured by another person’s negligence, it is imperative to have an attorney you can count on to represent your interests and fight for the justice you deserve. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the region, including in Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.
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