California Court of Appeals Upholds Written Stipulation in Car Accident Case

In a recent appeal stemming from a car accident, Horath v. Hess, 225 Cal. App. 4th 456 (2014), the California Court of Appeals had to decide whether a stipulation to an arbitration award was binding.

The action arose out of a collision in which Horath was injured when Hess’ car purportedly struck the rear of her vehicle. Following the accident, Horath filed a personal injury action against Hess.

In the case, the defendant Hess appealed a judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of plaintiff Horath in the amount of $366,527.22. Hess argued that the trial court erred in entering the judgment in favor of the plaintiff, since the plaintiff had stipulated in writing, prior to the arbitrator’s decision, that she would accept $100,000 or the arbitrator’s decision, whichever amount was less, plus allowable costs. He also argued that he was therefore not required to file any motions to correct the award within a certain time period, since the parties had stipulated to such an award.

The defendant’s motions were denied, and he then appealed again, arguing that he was entitled to have the amount of $100,000 plus costs entered as satisfaction of the claim. He also challenged the awarding of attorneys fees to the plaintiffs, since his claims arose out of their stipulation.

Prior to entering into arbitration, the parties’ attorneys entered into a written stipulation to submit the matter to an arbitrator for a binding private arbitration. Among other things, the Stipulation stated that the defendant agreed to pay at least $44,000 and to submit to binding arbitration, and the plaintiff agreed to accept up to $100,000 or whatever the arbitrator decided, but in no case more than the $100,000 or less than $44,000.

On appeal, the court discussed the terms of the stipulation. In doing so, it recounted the principles regarding contractual interpretation. It found that the terms of the contract were legally binding, considering the circumstances, and that the terms themselves were clear and unequivocal. Therefore, it found that the contractual provision bound the plaintiff to the agreed upon amount of the maximum of $100,000 plus costs, and the defendant’s payment of this was therefore in full satisfaction of the judgment entered confirming the Award.

The court also discussed how the stipulation benefited the plaintiff in that if the arbitrator had not found that the plaintiff was entitled to an amount greater than $44,000, she would still be legally entitled to at least that amount, because of the agreement. Therefore, just because the arbitrator came back with a higher award, it did not mean that the stipulation was any less enforceable.

The court thus reversed the decision insofar as it denied the defendant’s motion for satisfaction. It remanded the case for the lower court to consider whether the defendant had met the requirements for having the amount paid properly. It also reversed the award of attorney’s fees to the plaintiff, since in changing the finding, the plaintiff was no longer the prevailing party.

If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to understand your rights so that you can ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. The lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC have significant experience in handling car accident cases throughout California.  If you have been involved in a car accident, contact us today for a free consultation. We can be reached through this website, or by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Upholds Arbitrator’s Monetary Award in Motorcycle Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 2, 2015

Southern California Court Fails to Hold Employer Liable in Car Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published March 27, 2015

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