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Settlement Release Deemed Binding (PA)

January 29, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County recently denied a plaintiff’s attempt to bring legal action against third-parties after previously executing a settlement release.  In <em><a href="">Slinger v. Sal-Mart</a>,</em> the court found that the unambiguous language of the settlement release barred any potential claims the plaintiff had against third-parties.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The incident occurred when the plaintiff, a customer at Sal-Mart at the time, was allegedly struck by a truck driven by Robert Hulme.  In his lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that Sal-Mart was negligent in failing to properly treat the ice on its property which resulted in the accident.  Thereafter, Sal-Mart filed a joinder complaint against Robert Hulme and his wife, Linda Hulme.  However, prior to commencing the lawsuit, the plaintiff executed a release that provided for the discharge of the additional defendants and “their heirs, executors, administrators, agents, and assigns, and all other persons, firms, or corporations liable or, who might be claim to be liable…”  In exchange for the executed release, the plaintiff received a sum of $250,000.00.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In its opinion, the Court stated that, absent fraud, accident, or mutual mistake, a party who executes a release waiving all claims and discharging all parties are precluded from thereafter suing a party who did not contribute towards the release.  The Court noted that the plaintiff claimed a mutual mistake occurred because both parties believed the release only pertained to the settling parties and not to any more potentially liable parties.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">However, the Court determined that this contention conflicted with the clear language of the release and the deposition testimony of the parties.  Specifically, the plaintiff previously testified that he read the release and had time to consult an attorney prior to its execution.  As such, the Court concluded that evidence existed that the plaintiff knew what he was signing, was not hurried, and could have easily made inquiries about any questions he had about the release prior to signing.  Additionally, the Court stated that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate by clear, precise, and convincing evidence any facts showing a mutual mistake as to essential facts by the parties that would invalidate the release. Given this, the Court gave the language of the release its plain meaning, viewed the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and found that the executed release barred any action brought against the defendants.</p>
Thanks to Zhanna Dubinsky for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Georgia Coats</a> with any questions.

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