Appellate Court Wanted To Encourage Global Settlement Offers From Plaintiffs To End Litigation Against Multiple Defendants.
In Gonzalez v. Lew, Case No. B271312 (2d Dist., Div. 3 Feb. 1, 2018) (published), both sets of plaintiffs’ heirs sued the owner of a rented home when a fire engulfed the rented home in which two people (wife of husband who was renting the home and son of husband by a different woman who was also living in the house) died. Both sets of plaintiffs made a CCP § 998 joint offer to house owners to settle both claims for $1.5 million, with no apportionment. The jury later awarded the wife’s heirs more than $2.2 million and daughter’s heirs just over $357,000. The trial judge found the 998 offer valid, awarding expert witness fees and other costs. House owners appealed, principally arguing that the joint offer did not allow them to evaluate each claim independently.
The appellate court affirmed, engaging in an exhaustive survey of the cases on joint settlement offers under section 998, unallocated joint settlement offers made to multiple parties, and unallocated joint settlement offers made by multiple parties. After observing that the jurisprudence is somewhat diverse and driven by the particular circumstances of the litigation/offers/end results, the 2/3 DCA panel decided to side with cases encouraging plaintiffs with disparate claims to make a global settlement offer which would put an end to the litigation at hand (working out the details among themselves).
BLOG OBSERVATION—This opinion may be a candidate for California Supreme Court review, given that many cases have found joint offers invalid based on defense inability to apportion and that many cases have developed “unity of interest” exceptions to 998 invalidity arguments.