Most east Texas car accidents settle prior to an actual jury trial. When this happens, it is vitally important that all concerned parties fully understand the nature and extent of the agreement.
Unfortunately, there can sometimes be misunderstandings between the parties concerning the settlement agreement. This can potentially result in additional litigation, including a request for a court to interpret the agreement if a dispute arises.
Facts of the Case
In a recent car accident case considered on appeal, the plaintiff was a mother who sought to assert a claim for herself and her minor child following an automobile accident allegedly caused by the negligence of the defendant motorist. The defendant asserted an affirmative defense wherein he relied on a release and indemnity agreement that had allegedly been signed by the plaintiff and her husband a year earlier. Under the terms of the release, the defendant paid $6500 to the plaintiff’s husband, who was also involved in the accident along with the plaintiff and their minor child. As the litigation progressed, the defendant served requests for admissions on the plaintiff, but she did not answer them.
The defendant moved for partial summary judgment as to his liability on the plaintiff’s individual claim, asserting that the plaintiff’s failure to answer the requests propounded upon her was tantamount to an admission that she had signed the release freely and that she had fully understood its terms and legal effect. The plaintiff responded to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment with parol evidence in the form of letters of negotiation between her counsel and the defendant’s counsel attempting to settle the plaintiff’s individual claim after the release was signed, which the plaintiff asserted indicated that only the husband’s claim was covered by the release. The plaintiff later filed a second response in which she alleged ambiguity and mutual mistake of fact with regard to the release. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion and entered a take-nothing judgment on the plaintiff’s individual claim. The plaintiff dismissed her claim on behalf of her minor child and filed an appeal as to her individual claim.
Decision of the Appellate Court
The Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District of Texas at Fort Worth first noted that the trial court had not ruled upon the defendant’s objections to the plaintiff’s parol evidence; despite the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the appellate tribunal could not imply a ruling on the objections. The court then held that, because there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding the scope of the plaintiff’s alleged release of “any and all claims” arising from the accident in question, as well as in regard to whether there had been a mutual mistake with regard to the agreement, summary judgment had been improper.
With regard to the timeliness of the plaintiff’s raising of the mutual mistake or ambiguity allegations in her late-filed, second response to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the reviewing court opined that these defenses had been fairly and timely raised in the plaintiff’s first response to the motion and had been considered by the trial court in its ruling on the defendant’s motion. Given the objective evidence of continuing settlement negotiations on the plaintiff’s individual claim months after the release upon which the defendant relied had been signed, the court found that there was a genuine issue of material fact that precluded summary judgment. In so holding, the court noted that the amount of the husband’s settlement had been “less than even the lowest settlement offer” for the plaintiff’s individual claim.
Seek Legal Advice Following a Car Crash in East Texas
As this case shows, it’s always best talk to an attorney before signing any document presented to you by an insurance company. If you have questions for an experienced east Texas car accident lawyer, call Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300 or contact us through this website. We’re here to help, so please do not put off talking to a lawyer about your case. The longer you wait to get reliable legal advice, the more opportunities you give the defendant’s insurance company to steer the case in their favor.