ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) — A recently-enacted Georgia law
regarding the timing of deadlines in settlement offers has resulted
in the Georgia Supreme Court siding with a couple whose daughter died
in a car wreck, and against an insurance company.
According to a report
on the case, Thomas Dempsey of Ohio was driving in Georgia in March
2014, when his automobile collided with an automobile driven by Boris
Woodard. Woodard’s daughter, Anna, was in the car and eventually
died from injuries received in the wreck. Dempsey received a
Dempsey had bodily injury liability insurance with Grange Mutual
Casualty Company in the amount of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per
accident. The policy included a payment of $50,000 to Boris Woodard
and his wife, Susan, for the wrongful death of their daughter, and
$50,000 to Boris for his injuries.
The Woodards sent on June 19, 2014, a demand to Grange that had a
A settlement offer was made for the policy limits, according to
Georgia Code § 9-11-67.1, the new settlement demand statute that
went into effect in July 2013. The Woodards' demand for policy limits
included 11 required items for the acceptance of the settlement
offer. The offer included the following language: “Pursuant to
Georgia Code § 9-11-67.1, you have 30 days from your receipt of this
offer to accept it,” and “If we do not actually receive a timely
acceptance, this offer will be deemed rejected ...” It also said
that each of the two $50,000 checks “must be made payable” to the
Woodards and their attorney inside of 10 days following written
acceptance of the settlement offer. The items also said “[t]imely
payment is an essential element of acceptance.” July 23 was the
deadline for Grange to accept the offer.
Heather Conn, a senior claims representative for Grange, mailed
the letter that formally notified Woodard of the acceptance of the
settlement terms. Grange had a deadline of Aug. 1 to get the checks
in the hands of Woodard’s attorney. The checks had not arrived by
Aug. 12, and when Conn investigated she learned that the checks were
missing part of the address of the Woodard’s attorney. Conn
canceled those checks and sent a screenshot to the lawyer showing
they had been issued on July 29. She then reissued the settlement
checks. A computer glitch had caused the problem with the first
The Woodards’ attorney rejected the new checks and said they
would file suit against Grange. However, in October 2014, Grange
filed suit against the Woodards instead. The district court ruled in
the Woodards’ favor, stating that simply writing checks did not
complete the payment condition of the offer, and actual payment had
to be completed to comply with the statute.
Grange appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the 11th
Circuit, which sent questions to the Georgia Supreme Court because
the statute had not yet been interpreted.
The high court ruled, on a 7-2 vote, that the offerer sets the
offer terms, and further stated “[r]eading the statute consistent
with those principles, we do not equate the phrase 'written
acceptance' with necessarily effectuating a binding settlement, as
the dissent does. Rather, written acceptance of pre-suit offers is
necessary to effectuate a binding settlement, but whether it is
sufficient depends on the offer; if the recipient of a pre-suit offer
is asked to do something more to accept, the parties do not have a
meeting of the minds if the recipient does not also perform that
The Woodards were represented by James Sadd and Richard Dolder Jr.
Grange was represented by Thomas Allen III.