A recent Law360 story by Nick Muscavage, “NJ Firm Loses Fee Cut Challenge in Walmart Injury Case,” reports that the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey-based Law Offices of Andrew Park PC has lost its bid for a larger cut of the fees from a personal injury case against Walmart, after failing to submit a certificate of services detailing the work the firm put into the case. A New Jersey Appellate Division panel found that the lower court correctly allocated to the Park firm one-third of the $41,666.66 contingency fee, or about $13,888, that was earned in the underlying slip-and-fall case against Walmart, which settled for $125,000 in 2017.
The other two-thirds of the award, which equaled about $27,777, was also correctly awarded to the plaintiff's former counsel, the Fort Lee, New Jersey-based Jae Lee Law PC, the appellate panel found. The trial court, according to the appellate panel, rightly followed the principles in La Mantia v. Durst, a 1989 New Jersey Appellate Division opinion that laid out the principles that judges must follow when allocating fee awards.
In La Mantia, the court instructed trial judges to review the following circumstances when determining fee awards: the length of time each firm spent on the case relative to the total amount of time expended to conclude the case, the quality of the representation, the result of each of the firms' efforts, the reason why the client changed attorneys, the viability of the claim at counsel transfer and the amount of recovery resulting from the underlying lawsuit. "Here, the trial court properly recognized that the allocation of the fee should be based on the principles enunciated in La Mantia as we directed," the appellate panel wrote in its Dec. 10 opinion.
As a result, the ruling by the trial court resulted from "appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law" under La Mantia, the appellate panel added. Additionally, the appellate panel noted that the Park firm did not submit a certification of services with supporting documents detailing the time the firm spent on the case, which was essential to the court's decision. An affidavit or certification of services is required when a firm is seeking a fee allocation, according to the appellate panel.