A recent Law 360 story by Ben Zigterman, “Insurer Asks Judge To Nix Cleveland Bar’s Atty Fee Request” reports that Auto-Owners Insurance Co. told an Ohio federal judge that the attorney for a Cleveland bar should not be awarded $293,000 in fees and expenses it requested after winning a $1.2 million jury verdict over coverage for fire damage. At most, the insurer argued in the filing, Daniel Shimko should get $91,000 for representing Blues to You Inc., which does business as Wilbert's Food & Music.
In April, a jury ruled in favor of Blues to You on its claims that Auto-Owners breached its contract and acted in bad faith, awarding the bar $1.2 million, including $375,000 in punitive damages. The bar had accused Auto-Owners of failing to properly investigate and not fully covering its claims for fire, smoke and water damage from a 2019 fire, as well as water damage from a 2020 fire in a unit above the bar.
While the bar said the insurer made a "pitifully low offer" and "dragged its feet," the insurer argued that Blues to You misrepresented the value of its claims by duplicating losses from the first fire in its losses from the second. After the jury ruled in its favor, the bar asked for more than $271,000 in attorney fees based on 706.2 hours of work at $385 an hour, plus about $21,000 in legal expenses.
"More than a little skill and experience in this field is paramount to successfully represent an insured in such a legal proceeding," the bar wrote earlier this month. "Plaintiff's counsel went beyond proving bad faith. Plaintiff successfully proved that Auto-Owners acted with ill will in the manner in which it adjusted plaintiff's two claims." In response, Auto-Owners questioned whether Shimko really spent 700 hours on the suit, noting that its attorneys only spent about 504 hours on it. "For plaintiff's counsel to allege that he spent 200 more hours is inconceivable and suggests that plaintiff's counsel's stated time is overstated," the insurer wrote.
It also argued that Shimko's proposed hourly rate is excessive for solo practitioners in Ohio and that the jury didn't provide for litigation expenses to be recovered. The insurer also disputed that any attorney fees should be granted, arguing that the evidence did not back up an award for punitive damages. "There is absolutely no evidence in the record of conduct on behalf of defendant that can be remotely categorized as being malicious," Auto-Owners wrote. It also has filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the jury's verdict "should have shocked the conscience of the court."