When determining the amount of attorneys’ fees to award in a post-settlement attorney fee dispute, the trial court should have considered the relevant facts and factors contained in Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5(a).
In Cordova v. Nashville Ready Mix, Inc., No. M2018-02002-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2020), the issues at play were “post-settlement disputes concerning an attorney’s fee lien filed by the plaintiffs’ first attorney, a subrogation lien filed by the employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, and the assessment of post-settlement discretionary costs against the carrier.” In the underlying case, Sergio Lopez had died from injuries he sustained at work. The injuries were caused by a third party (defendant), and Mr. Lopez’s employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier had been paying benefits to his wife and children. The wife filed a wrongful death claim against defendant company and its employee, alleging that the employee caused her husband’s death and that the company was vicariously liable.
In the wrongful death action, plaintiffs were initially represented by attorney Gary Hodges, whose fee agreement “entitled him to 33% of the gross recovery obtained through arbitration, settlement conference or trial.” The agreement also provided that if Mr. Hodges was discharged and plaintiff recovered after the discharge, Mr. Hodges would be entitled to “a reasonable attorney’s fee and reimbursement for all costs advanced.” Notably, the agreement did not differentiate between “discharge for good cause and discharge without cause.” After he was hired by the plaintiffs, “Mr. Hodges entered a separate fee-sharing agreement with another solo practitioner, Robert L. Martin.” Plaintiffs never had an agreement with Mr. Martin and were not told about the agreement between Mr. Hodges and Mr. Martin.