Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When is a settlement valid?

The New York Personal Injury Blog and the New York Injury Cases Blog are reporting on the following interesting case.

Quoting from the NYPI Blog: "At a Brooklyn medical malpractice trial the defendant, at some point, offered 150K to settle. Then, while the jury was deliberating, the plaintiff tried to accept. But a note had been passed to the clerk that the jury had reached a verdict.Did the judge quickly confirm an agreement between the parties and put the settlement on the record? Nope. She did the opposite. And not only did the judge insist on the verdict being taken, but defense counsel remained silent, perhaps smelling a defense verdict after a short deliberation.This exchange ensued in open court between plaintiff's counsel and the judge:

Mr. Jordan: Could I put my request on the record?

The Court: Once I have a verdict, I take the verdict, and then the parties are free to do what they agreed to. An agreement is an agreement, counsel.
Mr. Jordan: Why can't we put the agreement to settle the case for $150,000 on the record?

The Court: Because I said what I have to say. Let's proceed

The jury came back with a $1.45M verdict.

The judge then proceeds to toss out the verdict and asserts that the settlement -- the one defense counsel refused to confirm and she refused to put on the record -- controlled."
Clearly, the plaintiff had anticipated a defense verdict and had been eager to settle for a mere $150,000. The question is: had the case already been settled for $150,000 or would the $1,450,000 verdict stand?
Was this an example of a plaintiff trying to wiggle out of a binding agreement that he wished he hadn't made or an example of the defendant's lawyer trying to have it both ways – keeping silent hoping the verdict would exonerate them but if it didn’t and the verdict was more than $150,000 then defense counsel could claim (as he ultimately did) that a settlement had been reached for only $150,000?
The court of appeals held that given that defense counsel had not acknowledged that a settlement had been reached and that the court had not recorded the verdict, there was no legally enforceable settlement and the verdict stands. The opinion, available in Westlaw already, is called Diarassouba v. Urban.

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