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Basner v. Bergdoll

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

October 23, 2019

Randy and Virginia Basner, Appellants,
v.
Brett Bergdoll, Jason Bergdoll, and Dara Bergdoll, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Levy County. Stanley H. Griffis, III, Judge.

          Benjamin E. Richard, William A. Bald, and Michael S. Pajcic of Pajcic & Pajcic, P.A., Jacksonville, for Appellants.

          Samuel B. Spinner and Hinda Klein of Conroy Simberg, Hollywood; Matthew Scarborough of Scarborough Attorneys at Law, Tampa, for Appellees.

          Osterhaus, J.

         Randy and Virginia Basner appeal the circuit court's order granting summary judgment for defendants/appellees Jason and Dara Bergdoll on an issue involving a disputed release of claims arising from a car accident. We reverse because there was no "meeting of the minds" between the parties on the agreement.

         I.

         In 2017, the Basners were involved in an automobile accident with a vehicle owned by Jason and Dara Bergdoll and driven by their son Brett. The Bergdolls' liability insurer began correspondence with the Basners that led to its tendering the limits of the Bergdolls' policy in exchange for releasing all three defendant/appellees from liability. The insurer mailed a draft release of all claims to the Basners for them to sign along with a $50, 000 settlement check. It instructed the Basners that each of the Bergdolls was an insured under the policy and should be released. The insurer also requested that the Basners notify them of any changes to the release prior to their revision and signature.

         The Basners did not follow these instructions. Rather, they scratched out the driver-son's name throughout the draft release, initialed each revision, signed and notarized the revised draft release, returned it to the insurer, and held onto the check (without cashing it). The Basners also attached a handwritten question to the document asking: "Do we have to release the driver?"

         After sending the revised draft release back to the insurer, the Basners did not hear back. A couple months later, a new attorney for the Basners sent a letter to the Bergdolls' insurer returning the check and notifying it that the Basners would be proceeding with the litigation against all of the defendants. The insurer responded that the Basners had already released the parent-defendants and so would be sending the check back to them.

         A dispute over the release ensued. The Bergdolls moved for summary judgment on the basis that the Basners released the two parent-defendants from all claims arising out of the accident. The Basners filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment arguing that no settlement agreement existed because there was never "a meeting of the minds concerning the essential terms and there was never an offer and acceptance of the same terms." The trial court ultimately found the release to have been effective and granted summary judgment for the parent-defendants. It also denied the Basners' cross-motion. The Basners filed a timely appeal.

         II.

         The Basners argue on appeal that the trial court wrongly bound them to the terms of a draft release that the parties never agreed to below.

         The "[i]nterpretation of settlement agreements is governed by contract law, and whether an agreement constitutes a valid contract is a matter of law subject to de novo review." Munroe v. U.S. Food Serv., 985 So.2d 654, 655 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). "Summary judgment is proper only if (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, viewing every possible inference in favor of the party against whom summary judgment has been entered, and (2) the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a ...


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