I recently discussed a doctrine that applies in negligence cases known as the undertaker’s doctrine. Some may also call this the no good deed goes unpunished doctrine. Just kidding; but, this undertaker’s doctrine maintains that if you undertake a service, i.e., a good deed, you must do so with reasonable care as you assumed a duty to prevent the beneficiary of that service from harm.
For instance, a tenant sued the owner of the condominium he (and his family) was renting and his real estate agent for water intrusion and mold problems in the unit. The tenant claimed the real estate agent was negligent because the agent agreed to fix the problems with the unit but neglected to do so. This is where the undertaker’s doctrine comes into play–the agreement to undertake a service exposed the real estate agent to a duty to use reasonable care with that service.
The owner of the unit settled with the tenant for $82,000 resulting in a final judgment against the owner. The real estate agent argued that the negligence claim against him should be deemed moot in light of this settlement since the agent was being sued for the same damages. The appellate court disagreed because there was nothing in the record to reflect that the settlement amount with the owner included ALL of the tenant’s damages.
“Mid-litigation monetary settlements are often less than the total amount of damages that the plaintiff was claiming. Each side gives up something when they settle, including some of the plaintiff’s potential monetary damages award.” Muchnick v. Goihman, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D986b (Fla. 3d DCA 2018). The settlement amount would serve as a set-off from any judgment amount or verdict awarded against the agent to avoid any windfall to the tenant; however, the agent does not get to put the cart before the horse and argue the case against him is moot because the plaintiff settled with the co-defendant.
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