In this auto accident case, the defendant insurer hired two law firms: one to defend a claim for personal injury protection (PIP) and another to defend a claim for uninsured motorist benefits (UM). The law firm defending the UM claim served a proposal for settlement appearing to cover all claims. The trial court declined to award fees. It found the offer ambiguous because there were two law firms involved and it was unclear whether the proposal covered the PIP claim in addition to the UM claim. The Fourth District affirmed, agreeing with the trial court that the situation created a latent ambiguity.
“It is a settled rule of law that mailing, as opposed to filing, a notice within the thirty-day filing period is insufficient to preserve appellate rights.” Citing Millinger v. Broward County Mental Health Div., 672 So.2d 24, 26 (Fla. 1996). The Court didn’t bother to discuss the facts, but did let us know that it issued an order to show cause prior to dismissing the lawsuit. The relevant rule is 9.110, Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure.
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In this case, the defendants were sued and initially filed a “bare bones” pro se answer. Months later, the plaintiff served a motion for summary judgment. A week later, and before the hearing, the defendants served an amended answer with affirmative defenses, which the motion for summary judgment did not address. The trial court denied leave to amend and granted summary judgment for the plaintiff. The appellate court reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion because “all doubts should be resolved in favor of allowing the amendment and refusal to do so generally constitutes an abuse of discretion unless it clearly appears that allowing the amendment would prejudice the opposing party, the privilege to amend has been abused, or amendment would be futile.”
In a rather complicated lawsuit featuring Dr. Minotty, the Defendant, being sued in a shareholder derivative action by the company he created, the Florida Eye Institute, and, individually, by three doctors who owned stock in the Florida Eye Institute, for (1) breach of fiduciary duty, (2) securities fraud, (3) common law fraud, (4) illegal interception of communications (see Sec. 934.04, Fla. Stat.), (5) tortuous interference with business relationships, (6) invasion of privacy, and (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint on the eve of trial to include claims for punitive damages.
The trial court denied the motion as untimely except for punitive damages under the interception of communications claim, allowing a punitive damages claim on that count alone because, under the statute, the trial court reasoned, punitive damages were “practically automatic”.
Following a jury trial lasting “weeks,” judgment was entered against Dr. Minotty in the amount of $2,000,000 to be split between the three doctors and $8,000,000 to the Florida Eye Institute. Dr. Minotty appealed the verdict and the Plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of their motion to amend their respective complaints to include claims for punitive damages.
While portions of the jury verdict were overturned, we address the Plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaints to include claims for punitive damages.
The 4th DCA upheld the trial court’s decision finding that, pursuant to Rule 1.190(f), Fla. R. Civ. Pro., the Plaintiffs needed to provide at least 20 days notice of their intent to seek punitive damages. Having not provided 20 days notice, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying their motion.