Many years ago, I handled the case of Royal Caribbean Corporation v. Modesto, 614 So. 2d 517 (Fla. 3rd D.C.A 1992). I argued the case before our Intermediate State Appellate Court, the Third District Court of Appeal, where the issue was whether Florida’s Offer of Judgment statute which provides for an award of attorney’s fees if a party makes a Proposal for Settlement to the other side which is not accepted, and then one side or the other fulfills the criteria of the Offer of Judgment statute for the award of attorney’s fees. If a Plaintiff serves a Proposal for Settlement or Offer of Judgment, the Plaintiff must receive a jury award of at least 25% more than the rejected proposal in order to receive attorney’s fees, and if a Defendant serves a Proposal for Settlement, if the Defendant receives a jury verdict which is more than 25 % less than their offer, Defendant is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees.
In the Modesto case I argued, the Defendant argued that awarding attorney’s fees pursuant to the Florida Offer of Judgment statute would conflict with Federal Maritime law. Defendant argued the statute should not apply in a Maritime case because of this conflict. I was successful at the time with the Third District Court of appeal in convincing the court that awarding a seaman attorney’s fees pursuant to the Offer of Judgment statute did not violate any established Federal Maritime law, and enforcement of the Offer of Judgment statute would not contradict any well-established Maritime laws or principles.
Recently, our Third District Court of Appeals heard the case of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. v. Byron Cox, 60 So. 3d 418 (Fla. 3rd D.C.A 2011) en banc, to reconsider the Modesto decision. The court concluded that in fact the Offer of Judgment statute does conflict with established Federal Maritime law, and that applying the statute would violate the uniformity principles of Federal Maritime law. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Florida Offer of Judgment statute does not apply in a Maritime case.
The case is interesting because I have had many situations where Defendant’s served proposals of settlement. I assume due to the fact that the defense very rarely wins and therefore is unable to seek attorney’s fee pursuant to the Offer of Judgment statute, the shipping companies started to argue against the applicability of the Offer of Judgment statute in Maritime cases.
I believe this was a useful tool to put pressure on the shipping companies to evaluate cases accurately and decide sooner than later regarding settlements instead of letting the defense lawyers run up the legal fees and then wait to offer a reasonable settlement until right before trial.
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