Can the Time to Accept a Proposal for Settlement be Extended?
Although the case law isn’t entirely clear on whether or not the time to accept a proposal for settlement can be extended, there are certainly good arguments that it cannot. For example, Florida Statute 78.79 and Rule 1.442 contain no provision for extending the time to respond to a Plaintiff’s proposal for settlement. In contrast, they state in no uncertain terms that a proposal for settlement must be responded to within 30 days.
Additionally, at least one Court has found that a motion to enlarge the time to respond to a proposal for settlement does not toll the acceptance period. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. South Florida Med. Health Center, 24 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 21 (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. 2016). In that case, the Plaintiff filed a motion to enlarge the time to respond to a proposal for settlement. After the motion was filed, the Defendant never withdrew the proposal for settlement – and the Plaintiff subsequently accepted the proposal for settlement on the 40th day after the proposal for settlement was conveyed. The appellate Court held that the motion to enlarge did not toll the acceptance period. The Court pointed out that Florida Statute 768.79 and Rule 1.442, which govern the use of proposals for settlement, must be strictly construed to permit only 30 days to accept a proposal for settlement.
Further, “Both Florida Statute 768.79 and Rule 1.442 are in derogation of the common law rule that each party is responsible for its own attorney’s fees which requires that we strictly construe both the statute and the rule.” Diamond Aircraft Indus., Inc. v. Horowitz, 107 So. 3d 362, 376 (Fla. 2013). Rules and statutes governing proposals for settlement must be strictly construed such that the period for serving a proposal for settlement may not be enlarged under Rule 1.090. Grip Dev., Inc. v. Coldwell Banker Res., 788 So. 2d 262, 266 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).
In regards to the question of whether the time to accept a proposal for settlement can be extended, the State Farm Court held, “We are skeptical, but need not decide, whether absent agreement from the other party one may obtain an enlargement of time by court order under the rule or especially under the statute, in light of the Florida Supreme Court’s requirement of strict compliance.” State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., at n.5.
Courts in other jurisdictions have likewise held that the time to accept a proposal for settlement cannot be extended. For instance, see Ennis v. Henderson, 627 S.E.2d 324, 325-26 (N.C. Ct. App. 2006) (“The trial court did not have discretion…to extend the time allotted for plaintiff to accept defendant’s offer of judgment.”); Twin City Const. of Fargo, N. Dakota v. Cantor, 524 P.2d 967, 969 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1974).
All in all, then, although the case law isn’t definitive on whether the time to accept a proposal for settlement can be extended, plaintiffs certainly have some pretty good arguments that it cannot.