TOPEKA, Kan. (Legal Newsline) – A Kansas appeals court ruling in a dispute over a fee from a personal injury lawsuit has been overturned by the state Supreme Court .
Mahnaz Consolver v. Chris Hotze and Bradley A. Pistotnik and the Affiliated Attorney of Pistotnik Law Offices, P.A, is based on a fee dispute between the law firm Bradley A. Pistotnik Law Offices and its former client Mahnaz Consolver. The opinion was released June 9.
The dispute began when Pistotnik agreed to serve as legal representation for Consolver in the early stages of her personal injury lawsuit against Hotze in 2011. At the beginning of the lawsuit, the plaintiff signed a standard contingency fee agreement with Pistotnik.
The agreement stated that all expenses and labor in the pursuit of Consolver's claims would be waived until the result of the lawsuit was determined and that Consolver would not owe her representation anything if no recovery was obtained.
In addition, the agreement also stated that in the case of a recovery, Pistotnik would be paid "one-third of the amount after reimbursing expenses or, if the recovery occurred after the pretrial conference, then 40 percent of the amount after expenses," according to the court's decision.
However, the agreement did not make any statements as what would happen if the lawyer-client relationship was terminated before the lawsuit was resolved.
During the lawsuit, an agreement was reached between Consolver's representation and the defense counsel in which the defendant would offer $300,000 to settle the personal injury claim if Consolver could show that she needed an additional medical treatment as a result of the accident.
The relationship between the plaintiff and Pistotnik began to deteriorate long before this agreement was reached because Consolver believed Pistotnik was were not treating her claim with the care it deserved. Rather than continuing the lawsuit, the plaintiff terminated her relationship with Pistotnik.
Consolver went on to resolve the personal injury lawsuit with a different attorney, who settled the dispute for $360,000. In response, Pistotnik filed an attorney lien on the judgment arguing, that he was terminated because the plaintiff did not want to pay the increased fee.
And following an evidentiary hearing, a district court found that Pistotnik was entitled to a fee in the amount of $86,944.27 and expenses in the amount of $10,156.81.
However, the plaintiff successfully appealed this finding, and the decision of the district court was overturned. In its statement, an appeals court argued that the trial "stepped outside the legal principles guiding quantum meruit to premise the fee award to Pistotnik on the contingency percentage in the contract."
However, according to the Supreme Court, there is an established legal precedent that "an attorney employed under a contingency fee contract who is discharged without cause is limited to a quantum meruit recovery for the reasonable value of the services rendered."
The Supreme Court stated that it could conclude that a reasonable person would reach the district court's decision and that in fact many courts had done the same in the past, and for this reason the Supreme Court reaffirmed the district court's decision.