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Failure To Facilitate A Meeting Of The Minds On A Pretrial Agreement Is Perilous

February 3, 2023

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href=""><em>Jones v. Blue Ridge</em></a><em> Mfg.</em>, LLC, 4D21-1799 (Fla. 4th DCA Dec. 14, 2022), the parties stipulated that the death was the result of decedent’s head’s “direct or indirect contact” with defendant’s vehicle. There was evidence that decedent suffered a basal skull fracture caused by decedent’s head’s “direct or indirect contact” with defendant’s truck. There was also evidence that the basal skull fracture was the result of inertial forces (the fatal injury believed to have been suffered by race car driver Dale Earnhardt) not caused by decedent’s head’s “direct or indirect contact” with defendant’s truck.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defendant sought to withdraw the stipulation pretrial, arguing that the meaning of “direct or indirect contact” was not clear. The court declined to do so but did allow the defendant to argue its interpretation of the stipulation and put on evidence supporting that interpretation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, the court discussed the purpose of, legal analysis applied to, pretrial stipulations. The court recognized that stipulations were valuable to a “well-run and fair trial,” warned that “the failure to facilitate a meeting of the minds on a pretrial agreement is perilous,” and cautioned that “stipulations be clear, positive, definitive, and unambiguous.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Because it could “fairly be read to mean that the parties intended the ‘direct or indirect’ contact issues to be determined by the jury,” the appellate court found the stipulation ambiguous. Applying this finding, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury to determine the meaning of the stipulation or in allowing extrinsic evidence regarding the meaning of the stipulation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The takeaway: Be aware of the nuances presented by the evidence, and do not let your familiarity with the evidence result in a less than clear stipulation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Charles "Chip" George for this article. Please contact <a href="">Chip</a> with any questions.</p>


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