Legal Ethics

Judge Awards $3M to Law Firms that Claimed They Were Cheated Out of Fees

A Florida judge has awarded almost $3 million plus interest to three law firms that claimed they were cheated out of fees by lawyers who hired them for settlement negotiations in a suit against Progressive Insurance.

Judge David Crow of Palm Beach County said he found “serious ethical flaws” by the original plaintiffs lawyers and forwarded his ruling to the bar for possible disciplinary action, the Daily Business Review reports.

The fee lawsuit was filed by Stewart Tilghman Fox & Bianchi of Miami and solo practitioners William Hearon and Todd Stewart. The plaintiffs claimed the law firm defendants hired them to negotiate a settlement against Progressive, then failed to tell them that a settlement had been reached.

The underlying suit against Progressive had claimed the insurer failed to pay for medical services in personal injury cases. The law firms that filed the original suit were Kane & Kane of Boca Raton and the Watson & Lentner firm of Fort Lauderdale, the article says.

Crow found the original lawyers allocated most of the settlement proceeds for themselves and breached their fiduciary duty to the settlement lawyers, the story says.

“The evidence establishes that defendant law firms unfairly deprived plaintiffs of a fee by ignoring multiple conflicts of interest, misrepresenting the terms of the settlement to the plaintiffs, misrepresenting the terms of the settlement to the clients to obtain the releases to trigger payment, manipulating the allocation of the settlement to obtain most of it as attorney’s fees and by discharging plaintiffs for no reason,” Crow wrote.

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