October 9, 2007
VALENTINA M. FLORIANI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
NATHAN P. UNSWORTH, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. ATL-L-180-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 25, 2007
Before Judges Coburn and Fuentes.
Plaintiff Valentina M. Floriani appeals from the order of the Law Division denying her motion to vacate a settlement agreement wherein she agreed to dismiss her personal injury case against defendant for the sum of $25,000. Plaintiff argues that the settlement should be vitiated because her automobile insurance carrier deliberately withheld certain medical reports purportedly relevant to her claims for the payment of medical expenses submitted under her automobile policy's personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.
Specifically, plaintiff claims that her carrier withheld a medical report recommending that she undergo surgery to address her carpal tunnel syndrome. Plaintiff thus argues that, had she known about this report, she would not have settled her claims against defendant for $25,000. The trial court rejected this argument. We affirm.
In rejecting plaintiff's argument, Judge Johnson made the following findings:
What does not appear to be in dispute is the fact that at the time legal counsel negotiated the settlement, there was a firm trial date of August 7, 2006 [and] that was a major consideration in her agreeing to settle for that amount [$25,000.00]. . . . Additionally, both [plaintiff's counsel] and the Plaintiff make it clear that he was given authority to settle the case for the sum of $25,000.00. The settlement was confirmed by [defendant's counsel's] letter of July 27, 2006, to [plaintiff's counsel]. The Court received nothing to contradict the fact that [plaintiff's counsel] was authorized by his client to settle the claim for the sum of $25,000.00.
The judge's finding are well-supported by the record, and we are thus bound by them. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974).
We recognize that the same insurance carrier handled plaintiff's PIP claims and assigned defense counsel to represent defendant in the underlying tort action. No evidence has been presented, however, indicating that defense counsel was aware of the existence of the medical report during the settlement negotiations, and deliberately withheld it from plaintiff's counsel as a means of fraudulently discounting the value of plaintiff's case. Absent such proofs, there is no rational basis to impugn defendant's conduct based only on the alleged wrongdoings of the insurance carrier PIP coverage department.
In this appeal, plaintiff has not cited any legal authority that supports her claim that the trial court erred in enforcing the settlement. As noted by Judge Johnson, plaintiff has not presented any facts "tantamount to fraud" on the part of defendant. We thus discern no legal basis to deviate from the long-settled public policy in this State favoring the enforcement of negotiated settlement of civil disputes. Puder v. Buechel, 183 N.J. 428, 437-38 (2005).
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