Tuesday, April 14, 2009
An attorney was retained by the father of a deceased child to prosecute a wrongful death action. The father and the lawyer agreed to a 1/3 contingency fee. The case was settled for the defendant's insurance policy limit of $300,000. The attorney had recommended a prompt settlement before lab reports were completed that could have had a negative impact on the value of the case. The mother, who had not participated in the representation, objected to the lawyer's fee to be paid from her statutory share of the settlement proceeds.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's conclusion that the fee was a reasonable one and that the mother was obligated to pay as a passive beneficiary of the lawyer's services. The award was not based on the contingency agreement; rather, the trial court had heard conflicting expert testimony concerning a reasonable fee and concluded that 1/3 was reasonable. (Mike Frisch)