In the case of Alberto Valle v. Scott Flory, Case Number 2D16-2848 (Fla. 2d DCA August 15, 2018), a proposal for settlement that was missing an attorney’s signature in the certificate of service was held to be valid.
Mr. Valle sued Mr. Flory (of course there is insurance, otherwise the case would not have gone to trial and then appealed) for injuries sustained in a car accident. Flory admitted that the accident was his fault but challenged that Valle’s injuries were caused by the accident (as insurance companies frequently do).
There is no dispute that Flory’s attorney did not sign the certificate of service to the proposal for settlement. The opinion reflects that this failure was due to oversight of the attorney.
Because of the missing signature, the trial judge refused to enter a judgment in favor of Flory after Valle lost the trial. This appeal followed. The Second DCA reversed and ordered that the proposal for settlement against Valle be enforced.
The Second DCA Did Not Find A Missing Signature Compelling
The opinion outlines a number of different technical reasons of why the proposal for settlement did not need to be signed (litigation attorneys generally describe “proposals for settlement” as being “strictly” construed). Those reasons are not particularly important as no litigant should willingly want to find themselves in a similar situation. Regardless, the Second DCA was not compelled by the argument that an otherwise valid proposal for settlement should not be enforced simply because an attorney failed to sign the certificate of service.
I suspect that the Second DCA judges reversed in this case because they wanted to avoid the potential for game playing due to an oversight by an attorney. Further, because the oversight was merely a signature for a certificate of service (keep in mind that there is no dispute that the proposal for settlement was received by the plaintiff) as opposed to something substantive.
On the other hand, I suspect the result would be completely different if the “oversight” were something such as a decimal point. For example, if the figure stated in the proposal does not match the written description (much like on a check), then a judge should not enforce the proposal because the “error” is apparent on its face and would require the court to guess what was intended.
That is not the case for a proposal for settlement that was missing a single signature but had everything else in order to be valid (and also remember that there is no dispute that the plaintiff received the proposal—missing signature or not).
Additionally, modernization of the process for filing and serving proposals for settlement should be modified. Considering that we have a mandatory electronic filing system for attorneys, it would not be difficult to allow filing of the actual proposal for settlement but block the judge and the public from accessing the proposal for settlement until after a judgment has been entered.
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