The Georgia Court of Appeals’ Decision on Offer of Settlement Rule Stands (for now)

The Georgia Supreme Court has denied a petition for certiorari requesting review of last year’s Court of Appeals’ controversial interpretation of fee-shifting under the offer of settlement rule created in the 2005 tort reform package.

Under the offer of settlement rule, a party can be ordered to pay the other side’s attorney fees if it rejects a settlement offer but doesn’t fare much better than the offer when the case is decided in court.

The Court of Appeals affirmed Fulton County State Court Judge Patsey Porter’s decision to deny defendants’ request for attorneys fees after the jury came back with a defense verdict in a wrongful death case wherein plaintiff had declined defendants’ $25,000 offer of settlement. Judge Porter found that defendants’ offer of settlement was not made in good faith, noting that they had also offered $1 million to settle during the trial.

The decision essentially gives judges considerable leeway in denying attorneys fees under the offer of settlement rule. The Court of Appeals, by a vote of 5-2, held that a defense verdict would not guarantee that defense could collect offer-of-settlement fees for a rejected offer. Judge Anne Elizabeth Barnes pointed out in her opinion that the statute contained language about a trial determining where an offer was made in good faith.

Justices Harold Melton and Harris Hines dissented from the high court’s decision not to take up the case. Justice Keith Blackwell, who joined the dissent to last year’s decision as a Court of Appeals judge, didn’t participate in the Supreme Court’s vote.

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