Evidentiary Hearing In Disputes About Whether a Settlement Agreement Exists

In Christian v. Allstate Insurance Company, 348 Pa. Super. 252, 502 A.2d 192 (Pa. Super. 1985), the appellant denied that he had ever accepted Allstate's offer of settlement. Because the filings raised an issue of fact, the Superior Court held that an evidentiary hearing had to be conducted even if "no party requested a hearing. The matter cannot be decided without one." Id. at 194. Further, the trial court's failure to conduct a hearing cannot be "waived by a party's failure to object." Id. The Court explained that there must be an evidentiary hearing wherever a court may be required to determine if an offer to settle was tendered, if it was accepted, if counsel had authority to act, the terms of the settlement and possibly other matters. Id. Accordingly, the Superior Court reversed and remanded the case for a full evidentiary hearing on the existence of the disputed settlement. In sum, Pennsylvania appellate court precedent has not wavered on the principle that there must be an evidentiary hearing where there is a dispute about whether a settlement agreement exists. A hearing must be held where there is a signed agreement but one party asserts that his attorney lacked authority to bind his client.