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New Case Alerts

Scott J. Edwards, P.A. has written about the following cases recently issued by Florida's appellate courts, which touch on important legal issues.

Florida's Fourth DCA Held That An Exculpatory Clause In a Contract Cannot Be Used To Waive a Products Liability Claim

In Harrell v. BMS Partners, LLC, Florida's Fourth DCA held that an exculpatory clause in a contract cannot be used to waive a products liability claim. In Harrell, the plaintiff bought a motorcycle from a dealership. The plaintiff was injured while riding on the motorcycle, and sued the dealership. The plaintiff's claims included an allegation that the dealer was strictly liable for manufacturing and design defects. The dealer moved to dismiss the case, based on exculpatory language in the sales contract that purported to release the dealer "for any liability or responsibility in any way for personal injury or death." The trial court granted the motion.

The Fourth DCA reversed, holding that the exculpatory clause contravened public policy to the extent it could be applied to a strict products liability claim. Even waivers that are clear and unambiguous are still unenforceable if they violate public policy. The cause of action for products liability arises from public policy requiring the parties that place a product into the stream of commerce to be liable for product defects.

Florida Supreme Court Resolves DCA Split on When Acceptance of a Proposal for Settlement is Binding

In Suarez Trucking FL Corp. v. Souders (Fla. Oct. 20, 2022), the Florida Supreme Court clarified when a acceptance of a proposal for settlement is deemed to be a binding settlement.

The Plaintiff in Suarez Trucking served a proposal on the defendant. The defendant accepted the proposal. However, the defendant named the holder of a worker's compensation lien as an additional payee on the settlement check. The trial court ruled that the written notice of acceptance of the proposal was not sufficient to form a binding contract. The Second DCA affirmed.

The Florida Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court held that the statute and rule governing proposals for settlement "recognizes a simple and straightforward process" of a written offer, if timely accepted in writing, creates an enforceable settlement agreement.

 

The Supreme Court explained: "Once a proper acceptance—that is, an unqualified acceptance—is filed as specified in the statute, that’s it: a settlement contract has been entered to resolve the litigation. All that remains is for performance of the settlement terms to be carried out." 

Because proposals for settlements have the purpose of establishing a clear-cut basis for imposing sanctions on a litigant who rejects a reasonable settlement proposal, proposals for settlement are by their very nature take-it-or-leave-it propositions.