Settlements and Releases

As I discussed in a blog post several years ago, even an informal email can constitute acceptance of a contractual offer. Moreover, just a few months ago, Judge Timothy Hillman took this principle one step further by ruling, in Witt v. American Airlines, that an exchange of emails can form a binding settlement agreement, even if the parties have not agreed to all of the terms of that settlement.

In 2014, Diane Witt sued American Airlines for injuries she claimed to have sustained while on a flight. After litigating that case for more than three years, the parties finally engaged in serious settlement discussions. Ultimately, American Airlines’ counsel sent the following email to Witt’s counsel:

I have been informed $15,000 is firm (together with acceptable release) and that the settlement must happen promptly before more costs are incurred. This really needs to get done this week and certainly before any further hearing for the experts have to spend any more time preparing for deposition.

Witt’s counsel eventually responded: “Thanks for getting back to me. Ms. Witt accepts the settlement offer of $15,000. Please send the proposed release when you can.”

Less than one month later, however, Witt’s counsel … Keep reading

As I have written before, the Massachusetts Weekly Payment of Wages Act obligates employers to pay all earned wages to employees in a timely fashion. The Wage Act also specifies that the “president and treasurer of a corporation and any officers or agents having the management of such corporation” are personally liable for violations. In Segal v. Genitrix, LLC, et al., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, interpreting the phrase “agent having the management of the corporation” for the first time since it was added to the Wage Act in 1935, ruled that, as long as board members and investors acted in their ordinary capacities, they were not such agents and could not personally be liable for violations.

In Segal, the former president and chief executive officer of Genitrix, asserted that two former board members of the company, H. Fisk Johnson III and Stephen Rose, should be individually liable for wages that Segal claimed he was owed for services he performed for the company. Neither Johnson nor Rose was the president, treasurer, or any other officer of Genitrix. The Appeals Court, relying on Cook v. Patient Edu, ruled that Segal might have viable claims against Johnson and … Keep reading

It’s human nature to engage in an emotional exhale after reaching an agreement in principle to settle a long-standing or hard-fought dispute. While doing so is all well and good, it is critical that you don’t let that deter you from exercising extreme focus on documenting that settlement in a carefully crafted agreement. Indeed, as the plaintiff in Zvi Construction v. Levy found out a few weeks ago, failing to do so can leave your client in a position where it is unable to obtain the fruits that it rightfully deserves.… Keep reading

In Exercising Contractual Rights Can Be Risky If It Is for an Ulterior Purpose, I discussed how a business can subject itself to multiple damages and attorneys’ fees under Mass. General Laws, Chapter 93A if it attempts to enforce its contractual rights maliciously. In a recent, parallel decision, Robert and Ardis James Foundation v. Meyers, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a party can be liable for contract damages – even if it does not breach the terms of the agreement – if it acts in bad faith and deals unfairly towards its business partner.  … Keep reading

Because over 95 percent of civil disputes are resolved without a final judgment, parties routinely enter into settlement agreements that include releases. Further, for those disputes that do not spawn formal litigation, it is not uncommon for in-house counsel or senior business executives to take the lead in a settlement. As such, it is important for anyone dealing with a settlement to understand how even a few words in a settlement agreement can make a big difference in the scope of a release.… Keep reading

When Richard Angelo died during a triathlon sponsored by USA Triathlon, USAT thought that the waiver/indemnity Richard had executed would protect the organization.  Unfortunately for USAT, that liability limitation turned out not to be nearly as ironclad as USAT had hoped.  Now, USAT faces the prospect of defending a case that could subject it to hundreds of thousands of dollars – or more – in damages.… Keep reading

More than once, an in-house counsel has called me up wanting to sue a former employee because s/he has been “bad-mouthing” the company despite having agreed not to disparage the company as part of a settlement or severance agreement.  Nevertheless, I Often have had to give the client the bad news that, in light of the actual contractual language, there would be little chance of prevailing and/or, even if we did prevail, the legal fees probably would exceed the damages we might reasonably expect to recover.  The good news for those of you reading this post, however, is that there are three simple steps you can take to greatly enhance the effectiveness and enforceability of any non-disparagement clauses you would like to implement in the future. … Keep reading

In a prior post, I discussed how a letter of intent could constitute a binding agreement even if the parties contemplated that they later would execute a full-blown contract.  Last month, the Federal District Court in Boston went one step further and ruled that a series of e-mails constituted a binding agreement to settle a litigation even though a settlement agreement and related documents never were executed.… Keep reading