Pursuant to Section 768.79, Florida Statutes, a party making a reasonable proposal for judgment may recover attorney’s fees if the proposal is rejected and a qualifying judgment is recovered.
In Coates v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 2023 WL 4004339 (Fla. 2023), the Florida Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a prevailing party is entitled to attorney’s fees under Florida’s offer-of-judgment statute. There, the plaintiff sued the defendant for wrongful death and punitive damages and served two proposals for settlement upon the defendant (one for $75,000 and the second for $749,000), which were rejected. At trial, the jury awarded plaintiff $300,000 in compensatory damages and $16 million in punitive damages. On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the punitive damages award, finding it to be excessive. Nevertheless, plaintiff then argued she was entitled to appellate attorney’s fees based on the defendant’s rejection of the proposals for settlement pursuant to Section 768.79. The defendant argued she was not entitled to attorney’s fees because she did not prevail in the appeal.
The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with the defendant and held that the offer of judgment statute was not a prevailing party statute. The Court construed the plain language of Section 768.79 and explained:
the text of the offer-of-judgment statute contemplates a situation where the defendant is entitled to fees even if the plaintiff prevails on the most significant issues at trial and ultimately recovers a substantial judgment. It is not reasonable to hold that the Legislature created a prevailing-party requirement when the statute’s text allows for awards to litigants who do not prevail.
Had the Legislature intended for section 768.79 to be a prevailing-party statute, it could have adopted similar language to the prevailing-party statutes mentioned above; but it did not.
A party does not have to be successful on the merits of the proceeding so long as the requirements have been of Section 768.79, Florida Statutes have been met, i.e., obtaining an award at least 25% or more (for plaintiffs) or less (for defendants) than what was offered and rejected.
For more information please contact: Forrest Andrews, Esq., Lydecker LLP’s Appellate Department Chair. Forrest Andrews, Esq. can be reach at 305-416-3180 or email@example.com.
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