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$5M Attorney Fee Dispute in Live Nation Injured Worker Case

January 31, 2022 | Posted in : Attorney-Client Relationship, Contingency Fees / POF, Ethics & Professional Responsibility, Fee Dispute, Fee Dispute Litigation / ADR, Fee Entitlement / Recoverability, Fee Jurisprudence, Fees in Escrow, Historic / Landmark Case

A recent Law 360 story by Ivan Moreno, “Injured Live Nation Worker, Atty Take $5M Fee Spat to Court,” reports that an event worker who won a historic award from Live Nation over an accident that left him with severe brain injuries is embroiled in an acrimonious dispute over attorney fees with his lawyer, who is suing him in New York over a $5.5 million fee.  Mark Perez, whose $20 million award for pain and suffering is the largest ever in the state, denies agreeing to the 10% contingency fee for post-trial work by Benedict P. Morelli of Morelli Law Firm PLLC.

"Despite Morelli's efforts to strong-arm his client into agreeing to an enhanced contingency fee for the appeal, Mr. Perez never agreed," he said in response to Morelli's lawsuit, filed last week.  Morelli sued after one of Perez's lawyers started demanding the $5.5 million that Morelli is holding in escrow, according to court papers.

Morelli maintains he repeatedly made Perez aware of that fee throughout the appeals process.  Although Morelli acknowledged his client objected to the fee, he said Perez and his family "made clear that they wanted MLF, and nobody else, to handle the appeal."  But Perez said Morelli insisted on handling the appeals despite knowing he was not agreeing to the contingency fee.

Perez suffered catastrophic injuries in 2013 when a forklift operated by a Live Nation employee crashed into a booth Perez was setting up, sending the 30-year-old tumbling to the ground, where he suffered a fractured skull and traumatic brain injuries.  He now has frequent and severe seizures and will require around-the-clock care for the rest of his life, according to court documents.  Live Nation was found liable on summary judgment in 2016.  After a trial to determine damages, a jury awarded Perez $102 million in 2019.   That was reduced several times after appeals, and the case settled in September for $55 million, an amount that includes $20 million for pain and suffering.

Morelli's firm got $18.3 million in attorney fees, not counting the $5.5 million in dispute. Perez's share was $28.6 million.  "These amounts did not satisfy Morelli. He chose to help himself to an additional $5.5 million out of Mr. Perez's settlement funds," Perez said in the countersuit, insisting he was clear about his objection to the additional fees.

"Mr. Morelli, I don't expect anybody to work for free," Perez said in a 2020 phone call, according to his countersuit.  "I do believe you're entitled to have some money. Okay ... it's just not going to be 10%. End of story."  Morelli said during a call that he's confident he'll win the dispute over the $5.5 million, citing New York case law that permits charging a 10% contingency fee for appeal work.