United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
C. BUCKLEW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the Court on Lawrence's Motion for
Entitlement to and Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs.
(Doc. No. 180). ACE opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 185). As
explained below, the motion is granted in part.
consolidated action is an insurance coverage dispute. In
August of 2014, Benjamin Wintersteen was employed by Jacobs
Technology (“Jacobs”) when he was involved in a
car accident with William Lawrence. Wintersteen was driving a
rental car at the time of the accident, and Jacobs had helped
Wintersteen obtain the rental car while he was on a temporary
work assignment in Tampa.
result of the car accident, Lawrence sued Wintersteen in
state court. Wintersteen made a claim for coverage under ACE
American Insurance Company's (“ACE”)
commercial automobile insurance policy issued to Jacobs. ACE
denied Wintersteen a defense and coverage under the policy.
had personal automobile insurance through USAA Casualty
Insurance Company (“USAA”). There was also
insurance coverage for the rental car through Hertz.
of 2017, Lawrence, Wintersteen, Hertz, and USAA (collectively
referred to as “the Settling Parties”) stipulated
to an entry of a consent judgment to resolve Lawrence's
claims from the car accident and to provide a means to
collect part of the consent judgment from ACE. Specifically,
the Settling Parties stated in their Settlement Agreement
that they intended that ACE would be required to pay the
amount of the consent judgment that it was legally required
to pay had it honored its coverage obligations under the
Settling Parties stipulated that Lawrence's damages from
the car accident were $750, 000, and they agreed to the entry
of a $750, 000 consent judgment in favor of Lawrence and
against Wintersteen. In partial satisfaction of the consent
judgment, Hertz paid Lawrence $100, 000 and USAA paid
Lawrence $250, 000. Thus, $350, 000 was paid by Hertz and
USAA on Wintersteen's behalf. In exchange for the $350,
000 and an agreement not to execute against Wintersteen on
the unpaid $400, 000 remaining, Wintersteen assigned to
Lawrence all of his claims against ACE.
Lawrence filed this lawsuit against ACE seeking a declaratory
judgment of coverage and damages, as well as asserting a
claim for coverage based on promissory
estoppel. In May of 2018, this Court granted
USAA's motion to intervene to pursue its related claims
against ACE for equitable contribution and a declaratory
judgment of coverage and damages.
was held in this case to determine whether Jacobs co-rented
the car that was involved in the accident. If Jacobs
co-rented the car, there would be insurance coverage for the
accident under ACE's insurance policy. After the jury
returned its verdict, this Court found that Jacobs co-rented
the car involved in the accident and that ACE's insurance
policy provided coverage for the accident under the Hired
Autos provision of the policy. (Doc. No. 165).
October 9, 2019, judgment was entered in favor of Lawrence
and against ACE on the declaratory judgment and damages
claim. (Doc. No. 173). The Court awarded Lawrence $400, 000
in damages on that claim. (Doc. No. 173). The Court entered
judgment in favor of ACE on Lawrence's promissory
estoppel claim. (Doc. No. 174).
seeks a ruling from this Court that he is entitled to an
award of attorneys' fees pursuant to Florida's Offer
of Judgment rule, Florida Statute §768.79. That rule
provides the following:
In any civil action for damages[, ] . . . [i]f a plaintiff
files a demand for judgment which is not accepted by the
defendant within 30 days and the plaintiff recovers a
judgment in an amount at least 25 percent greater than the
offer, she or he shall be entitled to recover reasonable