Offer of Judgment Deemed Valid Despite Failure to Comply with Rule of Civil Procedure

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In Castillo v. Costco Wholesale Corp., the appellate court determined that where an offer of judgment complied with Fla. Stat. § 768.79, ambiguity related to provisions of Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.442(c)(2)(F) that the statute did not require did not invalidate the offer.

Below, the trial court denied appellant’s motion for attorneys’ fees based on an offer of judgment to the appellee (Costco). The denial was based on Costco’s objections that  (1) the offer did not specify whether punitive damages were to be resolved as part of the proposed settlement, and (2) the offer was fatally ambiguous because it purported to settle all claims, “inclusive of any and all attorney fees and costs incurred as of the date of the acceptance of this offer,” further stating “Attorney fees are part of the legal claims,” but the complaint itself did not in fact pray for an award of attorney fees.

New decisions addressing proposals for settlement provided further guidance to the appellate court. These included a case standing for the proposition that failure to identify whether punitive damages would be resolved as part of the settlement can no longer serve as a ground for finding the proposal defective, and Kuhajda v. Borden Dairy Co. of Alabama, LLC, 202 So. 3d 391 (Fla. 2016), which dealt with violations of Rule 1.442 that section 768.79 does not require, and held that a procedural rule should not be strictly construed to defeat a statute it is designed to implement.

The appellate court in Castillo thus held that the terms of appellant’s offer were sufficient under section 768.79. The offer was in writing, stated it was being made pursuant to the statute, named the offeror and offeree, stated its total amount, and was to be construed “as including all damages which may be awarded in a final judgment.” Fla. Stat. § 768.79(2) (2016). Therefore, the appellate court reversed and remanded with directions for the trial court to grant the motion and award the appropriate fees.

Citations: Castillo v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D422a (Feb. 21, 2018).

(This post was prepared by Karina D. Rodrigues, Esq. For more information, please contact Karina at kdr@kulaw.com or 954-522-6601).