Offers of Judgment
Florida law allows parties in a lawsuit to make Offers of Judgment in advance of trial, which can have a significant impact on the case. It is important to know how Offers of Judgment operate so that you can make a reasoned and informed decision about whether to make an Offer of Judgment yourself and whether to accept one offered by the other side.
Briefly, an Offer of Judgment includes the entire amount sought as a fair verdict award by the party making the offer. If it is rejected and the verdict heavily favors the side that made the offer, the losing party may have to pay a part or all of the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees.
Consider the following hypothetical:
In an auto-accident case, the plaintiff claims that the total damages she suffered amount to $150,000, but she is willing to settle for $100,000 to avoid court. Meanwhile, the defendant claims that the plaintiff’s damages were only around $70,000, and that she contributed equally to the accident, so his share should only be $35,000. He’s willing to settle the case for $50,000 to avoid trial.
Imagine that the plaintiff makes an Offer of Judgment for $100,000 and it is not accepted within thirty days. The case ends up going to trial and the court awards the plaintiff $125,000, an amount that is 25% greater than the amount requested in the Offer of Judgment. The defendant may now be required to pay reasonable costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the plaintiff after the Offer of Judgment was served.
Now imagine instead that the defendant makes an Offer of Judgment for $50,000 which is not accepted by the plaintiff within thirty days. At trial, the court awards the plaintiff only $37,500, an amount 25% less than the defendant’s Offer of Judgment. Now it is the plaintiff who may be required to pay the defendant’s reasonable costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the defendant after the Offer of Judgment was served. More, the defendant is often allowed to deduct those fees and costs from the award amount before it is paid.
Offers of Judgment can be an effective negotiating tactic, and a way to strongly suggest to the other side that you feel your evaluation of the case is correct. Importantly, if you cannot resolve the case before trial, the other side cannot tell the jury about your Offer of Judgment in order to convince them to give you less than you’re asking for.
Consult with your attorney about whether an Offer of Judgment would be appropriate in your case, and especially consider whether you should accept the Offer of Judgment proposed by the opposing party.
The law firm of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore has experience in offers of judgment and all other aspects of civil litigation on behalf of their Tampa, Florida clients. Contact us today for a free consultation.