A recent Law 360 story by Ben Zigterman, “Fla. Panel Finds Atty Fees Error in Irma Coverage Suit” reports that a Florida state appellate panel reversed a lower court's award of attorney fees to counsel for homeowners suing underwriters at Lloyd's of London for coverage of damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. Instead of being paid for more than 550 hours of work to get a $52,000 jury verdict for Roniel Candelaria and Amelia Padura, the three-judge panel agreed with the underwriters that the homeowners' attorney fees should be recalculated based on 480.5 billed hours.
The panel said Judge Martin Zilber should have gone through the time records of the homeowners' counsel line by line, but instead applied an arbitrary 15% cut. The judge awarded the homeowners' counsel a lodestar amount of $312,000, applying a 1.8 multiplier to that amount and adding other legal costs, for a total award of more than $600,000.
"The lodestar amount is not supported by competent substantial evidence because the trial court did not make 'specific findings' as to its determination," Judge Kevin Emas wrote for the panel. While the homeowners' expert suggested a 7.5% billing hours cut, the judge instead applied a 15% cut, according to the opinion.
"The insureds' expert did not conduct a line-by-line analysis of the billing," Judge Emas wrote. "The trial court adopted plaintiff's expert's arbitrary methodology. Indeed, in the instant case the trial court did not merely adopt the expert's methodology but added its own across-the-board reduction of 15%." The panel said its previous decisions require "specific findings as to disputed time entries" and "particularized reductions."
"The trial court's comments at the conclusion of the hearing reveal that it had only examined 'several' of the timesheets," instead of making a line-item review, Judge Emas wrote. The panel also said the trial judge improperly applied the 1.8-contingency multiplier. The trial judge lacked "competent substantial evidence to address whether the attorney was able to mitigate the risk of nonpayment in any way — specifically, whether the client could afford to pay a retainer or hourly fees," Judge Emas wrote.