There's a familiar expression to the effect, "it ain't over 'til it's over." The idea is that something may seem to be coming to a certain conclusion, but it isn't truly over until a particular event takes place. This concept has application in many walks of life, including the settlement of personal injury and wrongful death claims arising from car accidents caused by a negligent driver.
Recently, a federal court certified a question to the Supreme Court of Georgia inquiring as to whether, under Georgia law, the parties in a car accident case had reached a legally binding settlement even though one party had allegedly failed to perform its part of the agreement - in other words, was the case really over?
Facts of the Case
In a case arising from a 2014 motor vehicle collision in which a father had been injured and his daughter had been killed, the plaintiff was an insurance company that filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleging that the defendants (the father and his wife) had breached a contractual agreement to settle a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit with its insured.
The defendants answered that there had been no binding settlement agreement because their attorney's letter demanding a policy-limits settlement had required the plaintiff to remit timely payment as a condition of acceptance and this had not been done. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. That court certified multiple questions of state law to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The Georgia Supreme Court's Decision
The state supreme court decided that Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 9-11-67.1 "permits 'unilateral' contracts whereby pre-suit offers may demand acceptance in the form of performance... before there is a binding enforceable settlement contract." The court also stated that, generally speaking, "§ 9-11-67.1 does not preclude a pre-suit offer from demanding timely payment as a condition of acceptance," but the court noted that it was only addressing a general issue of law rather than considering the issue in the context of the facts of the case. That, and other issues pertaining to the ultimate resolution of the case, was left to the Eleventh Circuit.
In other words, the court decided that Georgia law allowed a car accident claimant to make a settlement offer contingent upon an insurance company's timely payment of the amount stated in the offer, but it did not decide who won the underlying case. While somewhat frustrating, this result is quite typical in cases in which a federal court certifies a question of law to a state court. The state court answers the legal question and then, in most cases, sends the case back to the federal court to apply that law to the facts.
Still, the state court did make it clear that a Georgia car accident claimant can make his or her settlement offer with a condition requiring payment of a certain amount before a certain date and time deadline passes. Hopefully, this case serves as an incentive to insurance companies to move things along in resolving cases, rather than risk additional liability and/or costly litigation. After all, it ain't over 'til it's over.
If You or a Loved One Has Been in a Car Accident
In order to honor the agreement in the above case, all the adjuster had to do was secure two affidavits and mail a check within 10 days, but three weeks later the injured parties were still waiting on their money. If you are ready to get serious about holding a negligent driver accountable for injuries you or a loved one suffered in an Atlanta car accident, contact the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, at (678) 894-4758 for a free consultation.