Understanding Florida’s Offer Of Judgment Rule
As a general rule, in personal injury law, each party pays their own attorneys fees. The good news for injury victims is that in almost every case, you will pay your fees as a percentage of your settlement or verdict, so you won’t have to pay by the hour, and you won’t owe money if you don’t win your case, or you don’t “win enough.”
The Offer of Judgment
But there is one unique part of personal injury law in Florida that can obligate the Defendant to pay your attorneys fees. It’s called the offer of judgment (OJ) rule, and it can be a big incentive to get you or the other side to resolve the case before a full blown trial happens.
Here’s how the rule works. You make an offer to settle your case. Let’s say you agree to settle for $100,000. The Defendant can accept that amount, and then the entire case is settled. Or, the Defendant can reject your offer.
However, if the offer is rejected, and at trial, you win what you originally offered plus 25% (so, in this example, $125,000 or more), the Defendant has to pay that amount, plus your attorneys fees. This can be a big incentive for a Defendant to just pay that amount, knowing that it may have to pay much more, if you end up doing significantly better at trial than what you originally offered.
Defendant’s Can Use the Rule Also
It can go the other way as well, and Defendants often use this rule to pressure victims to settle cases.
Let’s say the Defendant offered you $100,000 to settle your case. You reject the offer. If you go to trial, and you win less than $100,000-25% of that amount (or, less than $75,000), you would end up owing the Defendant its attorneys fees, because you won less than 25% less than the original offer of $100,000.
This can create potential problems for a victim.
Let’s say the offer was only $10,000, and you reject the offer. At trial, you win only $5,000, or 50% of the offer. You now owe the Defendant’s attorneys fees. If those fees were, for example, $15,000, you would now owe the Defendant $10,000.
That’s right—even though you were the one injured, and you “won” your case, winning $5,000, in the end, you owe money to the Defendant because of the attorneys fees.
Your Attorney Will Help
Why even have this rule? Because courts want people to settle cases, and think twice before they just outright reject offers.
This all may seem a bit confusing and perhaps, a bit scary. You shouldn’t worry. If the Defendant should opt to use this in your case, your personal injury attorney will discuss the pros and cons, and the potential risks, of accepting or rejecting any offer that is made to you.
We can help you understand every part of your personal injury case. Call the West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at Pike & Lustig today.