Monday, October 14, 2013

998 Offers Need No Dotted Lines

Rouland v. Pacific Specialty Insurance Co., No G047919 (D4d3 Oct. 7, 2013)

Defendant in an insurance case made an offer of judgment under Code of Civil Procedure § 998. The offer instructed the plaintiff to file the offer and notice of its acceptance with the trial court if plaintiff accepted it. The plaintiff did not respond and defendant prevailed at trial. When the insurer sought its expert fees under § 998’s cost-shifting penalties, the trial court denied the motion, reasoning that the offer was invalid because it did not provide a signature block for acceptance. The court of appeal reversed, finding that § 998 requires only that the offeror specify the method in which the offer could be accepted and that the acceptance be in a writing signed by the accepting party or its lawyer.  There is no specific signature block requirement and, although there is a judicial council form that has a signature line, since that is not a mandatory form, its formatting is not dispositive. As the offer here required an acceptance that satisfied these requirements, it was valid. Reversed and remanded to determine whether the court should exercise its discretion to award expert fees.

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