4th Circuit Says Judge Erred By Cutting $6M Fee PI Firms Sought to $600K
Posted May 19, 2010 6:47 PM CST
By Martha Neil
Reversing and remanding a trial court's ruling on the appropriate legal fee for plaintiff's personal injury lawyers who negotiated a $18 million settlement, including $6 million in attorney's fees, a federal appeals court sent the case back along with detailed instructions for a do-over.
In a written opinion yesterday (PDF), the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says a federal judge erred, among other issues, by focusing on $300 as "a high hourly rate for a similarly situated lawyer in North Carolina." At that rate, attorney's fees for plaintiff's counsel added up to $600,000.
Since this was a contingency-fee case, however, a standard rate charged by other lawyers was as much as 40 percent, as affidavits from other respected trial lawyers supported. Hence, the 33 percent fee sought by the two plaintiffs' firms, Abrams & Abrams and St. Martin, Williams and Bourque, was well within that range, the opinion points out.
"If the affidavits are to be disregarded in favor of contrary evidence, the trial court must explain why, without disregarding the contingent nature of the fee," the appellate panel writes.
Hat tip: Daily Record.