Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mediated Settlement Agreement Enforced Despite Second Thoughts

When a settlement is reached, parties typically sign a binding settlement agreement before they leave-- often to prevent buyer's remorse. At the conclusion of a long mediation, litigants are sometimes physically and emotionally exhausted. Recently in Florida, a trial court let one party out of a mediated settlement agreement after she claimed coercion. In that case, the mediator allegedly denied her request to take the agreement home over the weekend. The lower court judge believed a request for additional time to review the document was warranted, due to fatigue from the extensive negotiation. After reflecting upon the settlement terms, the litigant apparently requested the agreement be rescinded, instructing her attorney to file a Motion to Vacate. When her attorney suggested he could not file such a motion, she then filed pro se. The trial court erroneously concluded she did not freely, knowingly and intelligently enter into the agreement. The district court of appeal, upon reversing, found the record devoid of evidence that the agreement was signed as a result of fraud, misrepresentation, coercion, or overreaching, and ordered the settlement agreement to be enforced. To void the agreement, the presence of fraud, misrepresentation, coercion, or overreaching is needed. Fatigue, distress, and second thoughts are not enough. The court reasoned though appellee may have been fatigued and distressed-- and later suffered second thoughts-- without more, these facts do not provide grounds for setting aside an otherwise valid agreement. See First DCA Opinion Case No. 1D13-1546 http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2013/12-10-2013/13-1546.pdf