Settlement Agreements in Probate Estate Litigation and Elder Abuse Cases Will Generally Be Enforced When One Side Tries to Bail Out

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Probate Estate & Elder Abuse Attorney

You just settled a vicious probate dispute or elder abuse case where the emotions ran high, the dollars involved meaningful, and everyone felt like justice failed them. Then something happens (or fails to happen) which one side feels was required under the terms of the settlement. Worse yet, one or more of the parties is experiencing buyer’s remorse. They no longer want to settle and want their day in court. The obvious question now is…can the settlement agreement be voided? In other words, can you get out of the settlement? Generally speaking while voiding a settlement agreement is possible, it’s not a sure thing. Here’s why.

New Jersey has a “strong public policy in favor of the settlement of litigation.” Therefore, our courts have actively encouraged litigants to settle their disputes”, recognizing that they are most informed of their own interests, and are best positioned to resolve their disputes in a manner that is acceptable to them.

“A settlement agreement between parties to a lawsuit is a contract,” and thus governed by principles of contract law. Unlike in other contract cases, however, because of the strong public policy in favor of settlements New Jersey “courts” ‘strain to give effect to the terms of a settlement wherever possible.’” Moreover, “any action which would have the effect of nullifying the provisions of a particular settlement agreement and undermining the reasonable confidence of the parties in the settlement process in general, is not favored by the court.”

“Where the parties agree upon the essential terms of a settlement, in a written document to be signed later, the settlement will be enforced notwithstanding the fact the writing does not get signed off because a party later reneges.” If one side tries to add terms to effectuate the settlement that do not alter the basic agreement these additional terms will not operate to avoid the enforcement of an agreement to settle the litigated matter. In addition if one side refuses or inadvertently fails to execute release documents this does not void the original agreement, or render it voidable from the outset. Execution of a release is a mere formality, not essential to the formation of the contract of settlement.

To discuss your NJ Enforcement of Settlement Agreement Issue(s), please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.