Settlement Agreement Enforceable; Attorney Emails Are the Proof

This case is a good example of why attorneys should always demonstrate professionalism in their communications.  You never know when your email to opposing counsel is going to turn up as an exhibit…

Background

This case concerns the enforcement of a settlement agreement following a car accident that occurred on August 22, 2008.  The opinion excerpts a number of the e-mails between counsel, wherein Plaintiff’s counsel reiterated a demand for the policy limits of $100,000.  Defense counsel ultimately agreed, subject to the usual stipulations that the payment would result in a full settlement and release of all of plaintiff’s claims, that all liens and subrogation rights would be settled out of the $100,000 settlement, and that no medical expenses had been paid by Medicare.

Over seven months later, Plaintiff’s counsel responded, noting that his client’s medical expenses had increased from the previous total of $82,000 to $123,398.70.  Plaintiff’s counsel also referenced his clients UM coverage of $300,000, but also stated “You and I have your case settled.”  Then, about six weeks later, Plaintiff moved to amend the complaint to add the UM carrier as a party.

Finally, eighteen months later, Defendant filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement.  Plaintiff responded in opposition, arguing that Defense counsel had never provided the insurance company’s declarations page in order to prove the policy limits.  Plaintiff also argued that, given the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries, $100,000 was not sufficient to compensate him.

The trial court granted the motion, finding that there had an agreement to settle the case at the policy limits of $100,000.  Plaintiff appealed.

Ruling

Plaintiff argued that there had been no meeting of the minds and, thus, no agreement.  Defendant responded that Plaintiff’s counsel never requested the declarations page prior to settling the case and that, in any event, everyone knew that the limits on the insurance policy at issue was $100,000.

The Court of Appeals found that the issue regarding the declarations page was irrelevant.  The language of the e-mail correspondence was enough for the Court to find a meeting of the minds.  In particular, Plaintiff’s counsel’s statement that “You and I have your case settled” was the “crystal clearest” signal that an agreement had been made.  The attempt to involve the Plaintiff’s UM carrier post-dated that correspondence, so it was clear that the settlement was not contingent upon any arrangement regarding the UM coverage.

The trial court’s decision to enforce the settlement agreement was affirmed.

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