Attorney’s Fees do Not have to be Quantified in Proposal for Settlement
Does a proposal for settlement have to specifically quantify the amount of attorney’s fees if the proposal wants to factor the other party’s attorney’s fees into the equation? According the recent opinion in Safepoint Insurance Co. v. Williams, 46 Fla. L. Weekly D2406b (Fla. 3d DCA 2021), the answer is No. The proposal can leave it up to the court (per a fee hearing) where the fees plus the judgment amount get factored in to determine whether that amount meets the proposal for settlement threshold for entitlement to attorney’s fees.
In Safepoint Insurance Co., the defendant served a proposal for settlement in the amount of $25,000. The proposal also stated, “This Proposal for settlement excludes Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees claim, which is part of Plaintiff’s legal claim in this matter. In the event that this Proposal for Settlement is accepted, Defendant shall agree to entitlement of Plaintiff’s outstanding attorney’s fee claim which shall be determined by this Court.”
The plaintiff rejected the proposal for settlement. At trial, the plaintiff received a judgment of $3,556.10 which included prejudgment interest. The defendant moved for entitlement to attorney’s fees pursuant to its proposal for settlement. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees.
On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed finding that the defendant served a valid proposal for settlement as the proposal stated with particularity that if the plaintiff accepts the proposal, the defendant agrees to plaintiff’s entitlement to attorney’s fees to be determined by the court. The Third District held there is no requirement for the proposal to specify the amount of attorney’s fees.
Here, we find that [defendant’s] PFS [proposal for settlement] was a valid offer, and in fact, provided a more crystalized offer to the plaintiff as it apprised [the plaintiff] that she would recover $25,000 minus litigation costs, and that her attorney’s fees would be paid separately and in addition to the $25,000 offer. Because the offer was valid and enforceable, the trial court was tasked with determining whether the judgment obtained by the plaintiff—in the amount of $3,566.10 plus plaintiff’s reasonable pre-offer attorney’s fees to be determined by the trial court—was less than the judgment threshold for entitlement to attorney’s fees. The court denied [the insurer’s] motion for fees without first determining the plaintiff’s reasonable pre-offer attorney’s fees to be incorporated in the judgment obtained and in the stipulation of the offer of judgment. As such, we reverse the denial of [the insurer’s] fee motion.
Safepoint Insurance Co., supra (remanding to the trial court “for plaintiff’s pre-offer attorney’s fees to be factored into the comparison between [insurer’s] offer of judgment [proposal for settlement] and the judgment obtained.”).
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