Florida Court Discusses Set-Offs in Uninsured Motorist Cases

When people are injured in a car accident, the insurer of the person that caused the accident will typically pay for any damages incurred. If the person at fault is not insured or has inadequate insurance, though, the injured party may be able to recover uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits from his or her insurer. Unfortunately, insurers do not always agree with their insureds regarding what benefits are owed, and sometimes injured parties will have to turn to litigation to protect their rights. Recently, a Florida court discussed an insurer’s duties with regard to uninsured motorist benefits, specifically addressing whether an insurer was entitled to a set-off for amounts previously paid following a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. If you were hurt in an accident with a driver who lacks insurance, it is in your best interest to speak to a seasoned Florida car accident attorney regarding your rights.

The Negotiations Between the Parties

Allegedly, the plaintiff was injured in an accident with an uninsured driver. He then filed a lawsuit against his insurance company, seeking uninsured motorist benefits. Before the trial, the defendant insurer sent the plaintiff a payment in the amount of $185,000, which it characterized as a payment made in good faith. The letter accompanying the payment stated that it would be credited against any determination of damages issued by the jury. The plaintiff accepted the payment.

It is reported that the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him $286,521.57. The trial court held a hearing to determine appropriate set-offs to the verdict before entering the final judgment. The parties agreed to set-offs, which totaled approximately $140,000. Then, after determining that the defendant was also entitled to a set-off for its advance payment, the court noted that the total set-off amount exceeded the damages awarded by the jury and entered a judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

Set-off Calculations in Uninsured Motorist Cases

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the verdict should only have been reduced by the agreed-upon set-offs, and a verdict should have been entered in his favor, after which the court could determine costs and attorneys’ fees. Specifically, he stated that the advance payment made by the defendant should have been used as a credit towards the satisfaction of the defendant’s judgment, rather than a set-off. The defendant disagreed, arguing the court properly characterized the advance payment as a set-off.

In analyzing the parties’ arguments, the court reviewed case law on similar issues from both Florida and West Virginia, in which the courts ruled that previous payments should be included in set-off amounts because otherwise, plaintiffs could recover twice at the expense of defendants, which was inequitable. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak with an Experienced Florida Car Accident Attorney

It is important to understand your rights when it comes to negotiating with an insurance company to avoid unwittingly waiving your ability to recover benefits. If you were hurt in an accident with an uninsured driver, Florida attorney Jarrett Blakeley can negotiate with your insurance company and help you pursue the full amount of benefits recoverable. You can reach Mr. Blakeley through the online form or by calling (800) 602-5000 to schedule a meeting.

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