Rescission of Settlement Agreement for Discovery Misconduct – Garvin v. Tidwell

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In this case, the plaintiff was injured when she fell off of a horse, named “Buster,” who had behaved obstreperously while plaintiff tried to ride him.  Defendant claimed that Buster never exhibited any dangerous behavior.  The case settled.  After the settlement, plaintiff’s counsel received an unmarked advertisement quoting the defendant as saying that she decided to give a calming supplement, “Ex Stress, to her horse, Buster, because he ‘can be a little difficult at times.’”  Defendant had not produced this advertisement in response to various discovery requests despite being in possession of the advertisement.  The plaintiff then moved to rescind the settlement agreement based upon these facts.  The trial court denied the motion.  The appellate court reversed, holding, “Since our system of justice depends on truthful discovery, misconduct in discovery must be discouraged by disallowing the settlement which is the fruit of such misconduct.”  The court further held that the plaintiff had further established the elements of unilateral mistake:

“[T]his case involves a plaintiff who entered into a settlement agreement believing that, after conducting discovery, she had all of the material facts in front of her, when in fact she did not. There does not appear to have been any reasonable way for appellant to find out about the advertisement or Buster’s ‘difficult’ behavior other than through the methods she had already employed. Thus, appellant’s mistake lacks inexcusable neglect.”

Garvin v. Tidwell, 37 Fla. L. Wkly D2506a (Fla. 4th DCA Oct. 24, 2012)