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George Martin and Carol Martin v. Hoveround Corp

February 24, 2011

GEORGE MARTIN AND CAROL MARTIN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HOVEROUND CORP, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, U.S.D.J.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION & ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Hoveround Corporation's Motion to Enforce Settlement [docket #5]. The Court has decided the motion upon consideration of the parties' submissions, without holding oral argument. For the reasons given below, Defendant's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff George Martin is a double amputee who claims he suffered various injuries when he fell from an electric wheelchair manufactured and sold by Defendant Hoveround Corp.

Plaintiff claims that he met with representatives from Defendant in December 2007, who evaluated his physical condition and recommended the proper wheelchair and accessories. (Mot. to Amend Ex. B, Am. Compl. ¶ 3) [8-3].*fn1 Plaintiff received the electric wheelchair in January 2008. (Id. at ¶ 2.) On March 17, 2008, Plaintiff was seated in the wheelchair when it tipped over, throwing him to the floor and causing severe personal injuries. (Id. at ¶ 12.) He alleges that his injuries resulted from the defective design of the wheelchair and the deceptive marketing practices of the Defendant.

Plaintiff sought compensation for his injuries from Defendant, but was unsuccessful. So he contacted Defendant's liability insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, and discussed his claim with Liberty Mutual representative Erin Williams. On March 8, 2010, Plaintiff sent an email to Williams summarizing his injuries and his attempts to seek compensation from Defendant and Liberty Mutual. (Mot. to Enforce Settlement Ex. A, at 3) [5-4]. The email narrative indicates that, at some point, Liberty Mutual offered to settle his claim but would pay for only a portion of his expenses. (Id.) Plaintiff considered this offer "criminal." (Id.)

According to the Defendant, Plaintiff called Liberty Mutual four days after the email, on March 12, 2010, to discuss settlement. Defendant claims that, during this phone conversation, Liberty Mutual offered Plaintiff $1,546.73 to cover half of his expenses and Plaintiff accepted this offer verbally and requested that the settlement release be emailed to him. (Mot. to Enforce Settlement Ex. B, Williams Certification ¶ 1) [5-5]. Williams emailed the release to Plaintiff later that day and then followed up twice, leaving a message with Plaintiff's wife on March 16, and speaking with Plaintiff on March 17 to request that he sign and return the release. Plaintiff never signed the release, and instead hired an attorney to file suit in state court, asserting claims for products liability, negligence, and liability under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The case was removed to this Court on August 4, 2010.

Defendant filed the instant motion on November 8, 2010, arguing that Plaintiff entered into a binding settlement with Defendant's liability insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, during the March 12 phone conversation. Defendant believes the Court should enforce this settlement and dismiss the complaint. The motion also argues that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff opposes the motion on the grounds that he never entered into any settlement agreement and he filed his lawsuit within the statute of limitations period.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A.Motion to Enforce Settlement

Courts treat a motion to enforce settlement under the same standard as a motion for summary judgment because the central issue is whether there is any disputed issue of material fact as to the validity of the settlement agreement. See Washington v. Klem, 388 F. App'x 84, 85 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Tiernan v. Devoe, 923 F.2d 1024, 1031 (3d Cir. 1991)).

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court will "view the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Id.; Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002). In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require ...


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