Court Rules in favor of GEICO in the $50,000 typo Appeal

Plaintiff, Bernadette Ryan was involved in a car accident in 2013 and sued her insurer, GEICO, based on the uninsured/underinsured motorist portion of her insurance policy. A rejected, pre-trial proposal for settlement for the $50,000 policy maximum stated that Ryan wanted:

“One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($50,000) inclusive of all costs and fees and in full and final settlement of all pending claims. The total amount of this settlement shall not exceed $50,000.” This was a typical typo that raised arguments from the side of GEICO making the claim inconsistent and patently ambiguous. Ryan, on the other hand insisted that it was just of typo error and GEICO knew about the proposal.  Based on the contentions laid down by both the parties, in its order, the court noted that Ryan’s proposal for settlement was “sufficiently clear and definite and not susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.”

The court noted that GEICO knew about the $50,000 policy limits and that “although the court did not take testimony/evidence, it was represented to the court that the attorneys talked about a settlement and that the defense attorney fully knew the settlement proposal.” The court entered final judgment for Ryan.

On further appeal to Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District, in the case of Government Employees Insurance Company vs. Bernadette Ryan, the court laid down its decision while citing a case of Stasio v. McManaway, 936 So. 2d 676 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) in which the 5th District required some clarification upon the settlement or judicial interpretation on the claims.  The court also emphasized that even if “the reference to $59,000 was a mere typographical error, the consequences of that error” fell on the party seeking to enforce the proposal. Like the proposal in Stasio, Ryan’s proposal for settlement contains a patent ambiguity—spelling out $100,000 in words but also referring to $50,000 in numerals. Accordingly, it was held that the trial court erred in enforcing the proposal for settlement.[1]

[1] Gov’t Emples. Ins. Co. v. Ryan, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 3472

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