Florida 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.
Discovery Order Quashed for Requiring Carte Blanche Irrelevant Information
In Florida, can you challenge a discovery order in the appellate court for being overbroad? The Third District Court of Appeal addressed this question this week. The answer, of course, is that it depends.
Discovery orders in Florida are reviewable by certiorari. The general rule is that certiorari is not available to quash a discovery order simply because it is overbroad or irrelevant. However, certiorari is available in limited situations where the discovery ordered is so broad that it allows carte blanche discovery of irrelevant information.
In this case, a plaintiff in a slip and fall case filed a 15-page notice of deposition of a supermarket's corporate representative, listing over 150 areas of inquiry. The 3rd DCA quashed the order denying the supermarket's protective order. The 3rd DCA observed that the slip and fall statute does not allow recovery under a negligent mode of operation theory, and that only the negligence of the specific location where the fall occurred may be analyzed. Thus, the requested discovery was impermissibly carte blanche to the extent that it sought corporate-wide discovery.
Florida Supreme Court Declines to Adopt Committee Proposals to Overhaul Civil Practice Rules
The Florida Supreme Court issued an order declining to adopt the wide-ranging amendments to the rules governing Florida civil practice proposed by the Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases. The order states that "additional refinements are necessary" to the proposed rules.
The Court's order states that the Court will be making referrals to various bar rule committees to prepare proposed rules. The first batch of committee reports are due in July.
As a consequence, it is unlikely that any major changes to the rules governing Florida civil litigation will be implemented in 2023.
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.