McAlpin Tanner Marcotte Victorious In Arguing That Prevailing Party Is Not Entitled To Attorneys’ Fees Under Florida’s Offer Of Judgment Where There Are Mixed Questions Of Florida And General Maritime Law

Several plaintiffs initiated a lawsuit in Broward County Circuit Court after they suffered personal injuries when the engine fell off the boat upon which they were traveling.  The plaintiffs sued the vessel manufacturer and vessel distributor in multiple counts.  McAlpin Tanner Marcotte represented the insurance company that insured the subject vessel and, accordingly, paid for much of the plaintiffs’ medical bills.  McAlpin Tanner Marcotte intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the insurance company to recover the amounts it had paid for medical bills if one or both of the defendants were found liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries.  Prior to trial, McAlpin Tanner Marcotte successfully reached an agreement with the defendants as to the amount of medical bills that would be fairly recovered by the insurance company, if the plaintiffs established liability.  Thus, McAlpin Tanner Marcotte’s client was excused from the trial.  At trial, the plaintiffs were not successful and the jury ultimately entered a defense verdict.  The defendants subsequently filed motions for entitlement to their attorneys’ fees pursuant to Florida’s Offer of Judgment statute.  Pursuant to general maritime law’s concept of joint and several liability, the defendants sought to recover over half a million dollars in attorney’s fees from McAlpin Tanner Marcotte’s client, even though the insurance company had not even attended the trial.

McAlpin Tanner Marcotte zealously defended its client against the defendants’ claimed entitlement to attorneys’ fees.  First, McAlpin Tanner Marcotte argued that the claims involved in the lawsuit were not strictly governed by Florida law.  Rather, although some claims were governed by Florida law, other claims were governed by general maritime law.  Next, McAlpin Tanner Marcotte established that Florida’s offer of judgment statute does not apply to claims governed by general maritime law.  Moreover, because Florida’s offer of judgment statute is in derogation of the common law, it must be strictly enforced.  Here, because the defendants’ offers of judgment failed to identify which claims they applied to (e.g. the Florida claims and/or the general maritime law claims), the offers of judgment were ambiguous and, therefore unenforceable.  After multiple motions and hearings on the issue, the Court adopted McAlpin Tanner Marcotte’s arguments, holding that the defendants were not entitled to recover attorneys’ fees from McAlpin Tanner Marcotte’s client.