LA: Underlying personal injury claim
Facts: Clients were husband who was injured in a car accident and his wife. The clients and their hired lawyer, Toce, attended mediation and the matter was settled. After mediation, clients contested the validity of the settlement because they were threatened, coerced and intimidated by their lawyer into accepting the settlement and alleging that he committed malpractice. The defendants in that settlement filed a motion to enforce it and that was granted. After the clients fired Toce, he intervened to collect his fees and expenses. Plaintiffs answered saying he committed malpractice which caused them damage. Toce filed motion for summary judgment which trial court granted and ordered the clients to pay as per their contract. The amount was ordered to be paid from the settlement funds that were deposited into the registry of the court immediately. Clients appealed on the grounds that Toce failed to demonstrate absence of any issue of material fact and failed to controvert their opposition to his motion.
Issue: Does termination of an attorney’s services for cause after he settled his client’s claims affect his rights to payment of attorney fees and expenses according to the contract when they asserted a claim of malpractice against him?
Ruling: Plaintiffs claimed the trial court erroneously held lawyer was entitled to his full contingency fee for representing them, despite the fact that he was fired for cause. He argued that since he was fired after the settlement was reached, he was entitled to the fee provided in his contract with them. This was a matter of first impression. Because the plaintiffs did not present evidence in opposition to Defendants’ enforcement of the settlement and it was enforced, so there is no basis for withholding his fees and expenses. Any amounts they may recover from him for remaining claims are not presently due and so do not serve as a basis for preventing disbursement of the settlement funds.
Lesson: If the underlying case is settled before a lawyer is discharged and then sued for malpractice, he is still entitled to his fee and expenses pursuant to the contract.
Posted in: Torts/Personal Injury