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Tuesday, November 1,2011

Legal Insight

By Scott J. Topolski  


Q: I have been trying to settle a dispute with a former vendor who claims that I owe him a rather large sum of money. I know that I have paid him in full, but I have a whole lot going on with my business right now, and the last thing I want is a long, costly lawsuit. To try to avoid that, I recently offered him a portion of what he says is owed in exchange for a release of all claims he believes he has against me. He now says that he is going to sue me and use what I offered him as evidence that I am liable for the debt. Can he do that?

A: No, he most certainly cannot. There is a long-standing rule of evidence in Florida that an offer to compromise or settle a claim which is being disputed, whether that dispute is as to the amount of the claim or liability for the claim, cannot later be used, at trial, to show liability for a particular claim or the value of that claim. The rule is pretty expansive and actually extends not only to the actual offer itself but also any statements made or actions taken in negotiations with respect to the claim. As a result, both your offer and anything that was said or done in connection with the offer is inadmissible at trial. Here, clearly, your former vendor would be running afoul of the rule. He wants to use that offer to show: a.) you are liable for the debt in question; or b.) the value or the claim--or perhaps even both. Simply put, he cannot do so.



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