Case Law Update | Bierman v. WCAB (Pa. Cmwlth. 1336 C.D. 2014, filed April 1, 2015)

April 1, 2015

Written by our expert brief writer, Attorney Susan Nanes

 

Fee dispute between former counsel (Larry Pitt) and current counsel (Richard Cullen).  Claimant sustained work-related injury in 1983 and LP got her ~$200/week.  Since then, for over 26 years, Claimant had been receiving these benefits, with LP receiving 20% thereof, until 2012, when LP commenced settlement negotiations with Employer’s Insurer.  The negotiations were unsuccessful and broken off by LP with a $35K offer apparently on the table.  Within days, Claimant “broke up” with LP and signed with current counsel.  At hearing before WCJ in October 2012, Claimant testified that although she had been “with” LP for over 20 years, she was dissatisfied over the failed settlement and believed that current counsel had done more for her in 4 months than LP had done in 10 years.  While fee dispute was ongoing, current counsel was able to settle for $75K plus ongoing medicals (more than 2x the $35K offer LP previously had on table and rejected).  Here, 20% of the $75K ($15K) is at issue.

 

WCJ awarded LP 20% up to date of settlement (1/31/13) and current  counsel 20% of the $75K settlement that current counsel negotiated on Claimant’s behalf.  LP was reasonably compensated for his work in getting benefits for Claimant in the first place.  Over 26+ years, he received ~$60K.  Meanwhile, current counsel is entitled to the $15K from the settlement, which is the “fruit of his efforts.”

 

Cmwlth Ct: Affirm.  WCJ adequately balanced Claimant right to counsel of choice with expectations of both counsel to be reasonably compensated for their work on her behalf.  LP asks for 20% of the $35K that was on the table when he was trying to settle, but he rejected that offer and broke off settlement negotiations, and cannot now seek piece of what current counsel achieved without him.  Opinion cites Mayo (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015) (Pitt v. DFS).

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