WA Legal Roundup: Division II
This is a case where the attorney missed the SGAL hearing, lied to the court (claiming she was stuck in snow when there was no snow), erroneously told the court that she requested and prepared documents for the SGAL, and sent a three page demand on a policy limit case (undetermined whether it included all the medical records to substantiate).
Minor sisters were injured in an automobile accident. AGM’s medical specials totaled over $68,000.00 while LMM’s medical specials were $3,500.00. The family was represented by Rubinstein Law Firm who submitted a demand on behalf of the family that consisted of three pages and 7 lines dedicated to AGM’s claim. State Farm offered policy limits ($100,000.00) for AGM and $4,500 for LMM. Rubinstein accepted the offer for AGM (pending approval) and negotiated LMM’s settlement. An SGAL was appointed to review the settlement and fees (1/3 requested by the attorney per the rep agreement). The SGAL opined that a lower fee was appropriate for AGM as the attorney spent very little time on the case and there was no need to negotiate. After missing the first hearing and being requested to file an itemized lien wherein she claimed only 2 hours of attorney work on AGM’s case, the trial court approved $15,000.00 of the requested $33,333.33 fee for AGM. Rubinstein Law Firm appeals.
On appeal, Rubinstein argues that the trial court lacked a reasonable basis to reduce the fee, based its decision on the itemized lien, and applied an improper method for determining the fee. The court found that SPR 98.16W authorizes the trial court discretion over the fees and allows the trial court to consider itemized liens, SGAL recommendations, and attorney declarations. The court also noted that Rubinstein was incorrect in alleging that the burden of proof for determining a reasonable fee should have been the SGAL or State Farm and held that the burden is on the attorney requesting the fees.
Finally, the court disagrees again with Rubinstein, holding that the trial court did not determine the reduced fee on an unreasonable or arbitrary basis. The court quotes the RPC 1.5(a) disallowing attorneys from accepting an unreasonable fee. In pointing out that the attorney spent very little effort on AGM’s case to obtain the policy limit, the court ruled that the trial court acted reasonably in lowering Rubinstein’s fees.