Parties Dispute Whether Settlement Agreement Was Reached in Personal Injury Case in Maryland

In some Maryland personal injury cases, the parties will resolve their claims before trial by a settlement agreement.  Occasionally, an issue may arise, as in a September 30, 2020 case before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.  The case involved a negligence claim against a hotel, and a settlement offer from the hotel’s insurance company.

The plaintiff in the case had filed a negligence suit against the hotel, alleging that she suffered personal injuries as a result of its negligence.  Prior to trial, the insurance adjuster for the hotel offered to pay the plaintiff $18,000 to settle her personal injury claims.  One day into the trial, counsel for the plaintiff informed the insurance adjuster that the plaintiff would be willing to accept $21,500.  The insurance adjuster declined, but confirmed that the $18,000 offer was still on the table.

The trial continued, and the plaintiff closed her case without calling any witnesses.  During the lunch recess, the plaintiff’s counsel informed the defendant that the plaintiff accepted the offer of $18,000 from its insurance company.  Counsel for the defense then contacted the insurance adjuster, who stated that the offer was no longer available.  The next day, the jury returned a verdict finding that the hotel was not negligent.

The plaintiff subsequently filed suit against the insurance company for breach of the personal injury settlement agreement.  When the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, the plaintiff appealed.

In Maryland, when a settlement offer provides no specified time for acceptance, it must be accepted within a reasonable time under the circumstances, or the offer will lapse.  The circuit court had found that the delay was unreasonable insofar as the offer was made during the trial, and the parties’ procedural positions were different by the time the plaintiff attempted to accept it.  On appeal, the issue for the court was whether the offer from the insurance adjuster had lapsed, or whether the plaintiff had accepted the offer within a reasonable amount of time.

The appeals court explained that, in general, the issue of whether the plaintiff’s delay in accepting an offer is unreasonable is a question of fact for the jury to decide.  The appeals court concluded that where an offer was accepted prior to the final judgment, within two hours after the insurance adjuster had stated the offer was still on the table, the issue of whether the offer was accepted within a reasonable amount of time was an issue of fact for the jury.  As such, the appeals court reversed summary judgment and remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings.

If you have been injured by a negligent business or individual, you may seek compensation for medical expenses and other losses in a personal injury suit.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland negligence lawyers can provide legal advice and guidance to people injured by truck and auto collisions, medical malpractice, and other accidents. Arrange a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

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