Ward, the First DCA reversed a trial court’s award of attorneys’
fees and costs pursuant to Fla. Stat. 768.79 and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.442.
In the case, the plaintiff brought suit seeking compensatory and punitive
damages against two tobacco companies. While the plaintiff’s claim
for punitive damages was pending, the plaintiff served an offer of judgment
on the defendants. The offer specified amounts at which the plaintiff
was willing to settle all claims with each of the defendants. The offer
also stated that “punitive damages are included in the amount of
this proposal, whether pled or unpled. Acceptance of this proposal will
extinguish any present or future claims for punitive damages.” The
First DCA, however, noted that both Fla Stat. 768.79 and Fla. R. Civ.
P. 1.442 require the offeror to state with particularity the amount proposed
to settle any claim for punitive damages, when such a claim exists. The
plaintiff, however, did not specify an amount for settling either of the
punitive damages claims, or indicate in any way what portion of the total
sum he offered either defendant should be allocated to punitive damages.
The First DCA explained that the offer of judgment statute and the proposal
for settlement rule must be strictly construed. While there is no ambiguity
in the plaintiff’s offers of judgment – the court notes it
is clear the punitive damages claims would have been extinguished if the
tobacco companies had accepted the offers – the correct test is
strict compliance, not the absence of ambiguity. Because the offers of
judgment did not state with particularity the amount proposed to settle
a claim for punitive damages, the First DCA reversed the award of attorneys’
fees and costs.