The Florida Court of Appeals today reached the conclusion that had already been made by most Florida trial courts: that they have the authority to approve a structured settlement of a minor's personal injury claim.
In today's opinion, the Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District, considered the appeal of Traci Hancock, who is the mother and guardian of Marisa Hancock, a minor.
Traci Hancock had requested that the Volusia County, Florida, Circuit Court approve a settlement of Marisa's personal injury lawsuit. A portion of the settlement proceeds were to be used to purchase an annuity to fund structured settlement payments to be paid for Marisa's benefit for the next twenty-seven years.
The trial court approved the settlement, except for the structured settlement portion, stating that Florida statutes authorized trial courts to approve settlements of minors' personal injury claims, but did not establish a court's authority "to bind the assets of the ward beyond the age of majority . . . ."
Traci Hancock appealed, maintaining that "the trial court erred, as a matter of law, in denying her request to approve the structured portion of the settlement agreement reached by the parties." The appeals court agreed with her.
"The trial court rejected the structured settlement annuity portion of the proposed settlement agreement, concluding that the court lacked the the legal authority to approve said agreement because the terms of the agreement would remain in effect even after the date Marisa turned eighteen years old. Specifically, the trial court concluded that section 744.361(6)(c) of the Florida Statutes (2009) required the court to ensure that, once Marisa turned eighteen years old, the proceeds from her lawsuit would be available to her. . . .
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[T]he parties in this case submitted a proposed annuity contract which, pursuant to section 744.441(21) of the Florida Statutes, a trial court is authorized to approve, provided that the contract is appropriate for, and in the best interest of, the ward.' All the parties and the trial court agreed that the annuity contract proposed by the parties in this case was in Marisa's best interest."
Hancock v. Share, Case No. 5D10-2069.
The appeals court also rejected the trial court's reliance on Guardianship of Bernstein v. Miller, 777 So. 2d 1125 (Fla. Ct. App. 2001), because Bernstein involved a trust for a minor as well as a subsection of the Florida Statutes that authorized creation of irrevocable trusts that extend beyond the age of minority.