Business of Law

Jury Sides With Out-of-State Lawyer in Hard-Fought Battle Over Attorney's Fees in $22.5M Case

What reportedly may be the largest jury award ever made in Lancaster County, Neb., resulting in a $22.5 million settlement by General Motors in an automobile accident case, also has led to a protracted court battle between the plaintiff’s attorneys concerning how to split the attorney’s fees.

Paid $2.25 million for his trial work as local counsel, Dan McCord of the McCord & Burns Law Firm in Lincoln, argued that he should have gotten $562,500 more for his work on the appeal unsuccessfully mounted by GM following a 2003 jury award for $19.56 million. However, a lawyer for Michael Piuze, who was brought in by McCord from California to work on the underlying Penny Shipler case because he had previously handled a similar one against GM, said the payment McCord got from Piuze was what the representation contract called for, recounts the Lincoln Journal Star.

After a day’s deliberation, a Lancaster County jury sided with Piuze on Monday.

His lawyer, Peter Ezzell of Los Angeles explained that the representation contract called for Shipler to pay a 40-percent contingency fee from her award for her counsel’s trial work and 50 percent for any resulting appeal. However, the contract expressly excluded McCord–who was to be paid 25 percent of the trial-level legal fees–from the appellate portion of the matter, Ezzell said.

McCord had argued that he was entitled to be paid 25 percent of the appellate legal fees too, contending that it had been the expectation from the outset that he would stay on the case all the way. Shipler sought him out to represent her because she was a friend of his.

A judge agreed with McCord in a 2007 ruling, but the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2008 and remanded the case.

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