It was almost two years ago that I wrote about Wright v. Wright, No. M2007-00378-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 12, 2007). (Post 1) (Post 2) Wright 1 is an opinion authored by Judge Walter Kurtz that reversed a decision to award a plaintiff’s lawyer a one-third contingent fee in a personal injury case brought on behalf of a minor. The lawyer seeking the fee not only did know how much time he spent on the matter but did not submit an affidavit or any evidence of how much time was spent. Nor did he introduce into evidence any information relevant to the RPC 1.5(a) factors that govern fees issues. Frankly, the lawyer here simply assumed that the trial judge would enforce the fee contract (one-third of the recovery) and did not think about the record.
The case was remanded so that a reasonable fee could be determined. After discovery and a hearing, the trial judge awarded the plaintiff’s lawyer a fee of $131,000. (The amount of the settlement of wrongful death case was $425,000.) The child’s guardian ad litem perfected another appeal, arguing that the fee was too high.
Wright v. Wright, No. M2008-01181-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 8, 2009) ("Wright 2") affirmed the Trial Court’s award of the $131,000 fee. The opinion details the extensive work done on the case, and reveals how plaintiff’s counsel was able to settle the case for $425,000 despite the fact that the applicable insurance coverage was only $50,000. Also important to the outcome: the child was suing her grandmother, and thus a substantial judgment (or any judgment) was certainly in doubt.