Florida District Court of Appeal Addresses Insurance Policy Settlement in Auto Accident

If an accident occurs in Florida, an injured party can pursue legal recourse in this state. In a recent case, the appellate court looked at a prior judgment that attempted to address whether a party injured in a Florida car accident could access Personal Injury Protection benefits under her policy obtained in Michigan after she reached a settlement agreement under a Michigan rule of civil procedure. In this original agreement, the parties stipulated to an entry of a judgment for the injured party for $30,000. Later, the injured party brought a second action in Florida against the insurer for additional PIP benefits from the same policy, based on the medical expenses incurred prior to the filing of the lawsuit.

The insurer moved for a summary judgment, arguing this claim for PIP should not proceed under res judicata, which bars matters that have already been adjudicated by a competent court. The injured woman countered that res judicata did not apply to the PIP benefits, since the entered judgment was for the expenses incurred after the complaint was filed three years before. The trial court determined that the parties had not reached a “meeting of the minds” when the first claim was resolved and vacated the stipulated judgment. The court cited Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(1), (2), (4), which allows a trial court to relieve a party from a judgment when the order or judgment is void; when a mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect requires relief; or when there’s been the discovery of important evidence. The trial court did not specify which part of the rule it was applying to the situation at hand. The insurer appealed.

The District Court of Appeal first assessed when a judgment is void, as opposed to voidable. The state’s civil rule of procedure provides relief when the order or judgment is void. A judgment is void when the court that entered it lacked jurisdiction over the defendant or when there was a violation of due process. Neither the injured person nor the court asserted there was no jurisdiction or a lack of due process. The Court of Appeal determined without either of these, the judgment could not have been void.

The appellate court noted that the stipulation was considered void based on the trial court’s decision that the underlying agreement was void. The appellate court ruled the trial court’s determination there was no meeting of the minds did not mean the contract was void. The Court of Appeal pointed to Florida law that considers a lack of understanding and agreement to be voidable, rather than void. The court decided the correct relief would have been a motion for rehearing or appeal in which the contract could be challenged, but it cannot be void under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(1), (2), (4).

The Court of Appeal looked at the lack of findings in the lower court’s ruling. There was no evidence to support a finding there was no meeting of the minds. Other Florida courts of appeal have found that a trial court’s findings about the meeting of the minds should be supported by competent substantial evidence. (See Speigel v. H. Allen Holmes, Inc., 834 So. 2d 294 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002).) The appellate court found the trial court could not properly resolve the issue of whether or not there was a meeting of the minds at a hearing for summary judgment. The court stated that even if there was a proper finding, the matter at hand hinged on preclusion law, rather than contract law. The order granting the motion to vacate was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court.

The South Florida car accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the experience you need to pursue all of the available benefits and damages. Contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017