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GEICO v. Macedo – Attorney Fees in Florida Injury Lawsuits

If you are involved in a car accident, you may be wondering not only if you should hire an attorney, but whether you can afford one.

The good news is that our Orlando car accident lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means clients do not pay attorney’s fees upfront (as they would in many other types of litigation), and in fact, they don’t have to pay any attorney fees if the case is unsuccessful.

And here is some other good news: There are some situations in Florida injury law in which the courts will order defendants to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees at the close of the case. When the other side pays those fees in full, plaintiffs don’t have to worry about paying it out of their portion of damages.

One of those instances in which defendants are ordered to pay is outlined in F.S. 768.79. The statute says that if plaintiff makes an offer of settlement that is either rejected in 30 days or ignored and the plaintiff goes on to win at trial – taking home 25 percent more than that settlement offer – defendant has to pay plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees.

The court can also decide to award attorneys fees based on additional factors, such as:

  • The claims apparent merit or lack of merit;
  • The number and nature of offers made by the parties;
  • The closeness of questions of law and fact at issue;
  • Whether the person making the offer unreasonably refused to furnish information that would have been necessary to the reasonableness of such offer;
  • The amount of additional delay, cost and expense that could have been avoided had the offer been accepted.

In the recent case of GEICO v. Macedo, an auto insurer appealed an award of $200,000 plus attorney’s fees that was handed plaintiff after the insurer turned down a proposed $50,000 settlement on behalf of its insured, the at-fault driver in the car accident lawsuit.

The case went to trial and jurors returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff for four times the amount of her settlement offer.

Plaintiff then joined the insurer to the action and sought to hold insurer jointly and severally liable (meaning it would be responsible to pay the entire amount), and the court granted that motion.

Defendant appealed. The question before Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal was whether the insurer’s policy with defendant precluded it from liability in this situation.

The court chose to rely on its prior decision in New Hampshire Indemnity Co. v. Gray. In that case, the appeals court decided that the insurer’s policy provision indicated it would cover, “other reasonable expenses incurred at our request” did include the costs associated with choosing to take the case to trial rather than settling it. As in that case, defendant insurer in Macedo did have the sole right to settle or to litigate the claim. Therefore, it is contractually obligated to pay all of the investigative and legal costs borne of those decisions.

The policy did not spell the definition of what those costs were or make an effort to exclude certain costs. Therefore, the insurer is required to pay those costs.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

GEICO v. Macedo, May 6, 2016, Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

State Farm v. Brewer – Car Accident Lawsuit Involves Doctor Asleep at Wheel, May 10, 2016, Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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