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Rejected Offer Allows Insurance Company to Recover Attorneys’ Fees in Florida Promissory Note Dispute

Legal News GavelIn your commercial litigation case, you’ll inevitably have to make many important decisions as you go through the process. One of these is whether or not to settle the case. A settlement offer not only provides the possibility of finality, but also it creates options for you if the other side rejects the offer, and you achieve a sufficiently successful result in court. An experienced Florida contract litigation attorney can provide significant aid in helping you weigh your options as you contemplate settling your case.

For an example of how a rejected offer can help you, take a federal case from 2017 involving a promissory note. The debt was secured by a piece of beachfront property that the borrower owned. When the debt wasn’t repaid in accordance with the terms, the lender sued for breach of contract. The lender sued the borrower, the guarantors, and the insurance company that had written title insurance policies related to the beachfront property.

The last claim to be adjudicated was the lender’s breach of contract claim against the insurance company. The insurance company offered to settle the claim for $20,000, but the LLC rejected the offer. The insurance company was eventually able to secure a summary judgment in its favor, but not before it had already completed extensive discovery and filed motions in the case, since the trial date was only one month away. After winning that motion, the insurance company followed it up with a request that the court award it attorneys’ fees. Florida has a statute that permits a defendant to recover its attorneys’ fees if, in a case “for damages,” it makes a qualifying offer of judgment, the plaintiff rejects it, and the court ultimately issues a judgment imposing no liability against the defendant.

There are two key elements that must be met in order for a defendant to win an award of attorneys’ fees. First, the plaintiff’s case must be one seeking only monetary damages. Second, the defendant’s offer must be a qualifying one. The lender in this case contested both of these elements but ultimately lost. Contrary to the lender’s arguments, its case was one for damages. Even if a plaintiff asks for an injunction as part of its case, that does not automatically make the case ineligible for an award of the defendant’s attorneys’ fees. The law says that court must look at “what the ‘real issue’ in the case was. If it was the plaintiff’s entitlement to money, as was the case in the lender’s action, then the case still met the legal standard of being “for damages.”

The offer also was not disqualified for being too ambiguous. Even though it didn’t say that it resolved all of the lender’s monetary and non-monetary claims, that didn’t make it ambiguous, given that the offer clearly said ”all claims,” and the lender had no non-monetary claims pending against the insurance company.

As you navigate the process of litigation, it pays to have counsel who have “been there before.” The experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon can provide you with the advice and advocacy you need at every step along the way. Our team has been helping businesses protect their rights and interests for many years and is ready to get to work for you.

Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you protect your interests.

More blog posts:

Recovering Attorneys’ Fees in Your Florida Breach of Contract Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, March 8, 2017

Ambiguity in Settlement Offer Defeats Florida Commercial Tenant’s Claim for Attorneys’ Fees in Lease Breach Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Feb. 14, 2017