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Carrot or Stick? Florida’s Proposal for Settlement Statute

Assessing the value of a client’s claim is a key component of the representation an accident attorney provides his or her clients. Indeed, it can be challenging for accident victims to accurately estimate their own damages. Understandably, tempers run high and nerves are raw after an accident that involves serious injuries or major property damage, and many victims view impending lawsuits as their opportunity to get even with individuals they view as culpable for their pain, suffering and monetary losses. Part of an attorney’s job is to shape a client’s expectations, based on legal realities and practical considerations, so that he or she does not enter any potential litigation with unrealistic expectations or goals.

Pressure to settle?

In an attempt to encourage settlements and reduce the percentage of cases that exhaust limited judicial resources, the Florida legislature passed the Proposal for Settlement Statute. This legislation creates sanctions for litigants who unreasonably reject settlement proposals by requiring them to pay for court costs and attorney’s fees if they do not receive larger damage awards at trial. Ostensibly, the statue also cuts down on plaintiffs who may try to use the threat of a lengthy, expensive trial to ratchet up the settlement offers of defendants.

Net gain, but for whom?

Critics of the law attack it on a number of fronts, arguing among other things that it frightens plaintiffs from pursuing their rights. Furthermore, the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law has added settlement proposal requirements that both make it more difficult to reach settlements and create a considerable amount of collateral litigation directly related to the statute itself, which may in fact defeat the statute’s original goal of conserving judicial resources.

Advice is critical

Regardless of one’s opinion of the Proposal for Settlement statute, one thing is certain. It raises the stakes in the early stages of any personal injury case, necessitating a careful evaluation of a plaintiff’s demands at the outset of any case. A personal injury attorney who can provide crucial advice on the value of a party’s claims is critical in this process.

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