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Off Base on Contingent Fees

* Michael Glueck is correct that there are unscrupulous attorneys that prey upon the public (“There Ought to be a Law on Lawyers’ Fees,” Orange County Voices, May 24).

We’ve come in contact with many ourselves. But to characterize all contingent fee agreements as shrouded evils allowing attorneys to gouge the public is simply unfair and inaccurate.

In practice, the contingent fee is the only remaining weapon the injured parties have to pursue their legal rights against the big bad insurance companies.

Let’s assume a person is involved in a serious automobile accident. The fact that the other driver is entirely at fault is not disputed. Our injured driver has $8,000 of damage to the front end of his car and now has a painful bulging disc in his back caused by the accident. His medical bills total $10,000, and he still suffers significant pain and needs future treatment.

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The insurance company makes this gentleman an offer which barely covers his medical bills and does not take into account his daily throbbing pain and serious inconveniences (i.e., no longer being able to lift a bag of groceries, or his young child, nor play baseball with his child, nor have intimate relations with his wife, etc.)

The insurance company totally controls the extent of the litigation. It hires a law firm to bring the case to trial, paying the attorneys by the hour--not on contingency. It hires medical experts for thousands of dollars, brings in additional experts (i.e. accident reconstruction, vocational rehabilitation, engineers, etc.) all to prevent the injured driver from getting a settlement that will somewhat compensate him for his drastic loss of enjoyment of life. And plaintiffs’ attorneys can’t ever tell the jury the insurance company is involved. To tell the jury this would be grounds for an automatic mistrial.

How can a plaintiff’s attorney accurately predict the likelihood of a speedy resolution or the number of hours necessary to complete the case? This is what Glueck has demanded as necessary for consumers to be protected. It is an exercise in fiction, as, short of a crystal ball, no attorney can predict the direction of an insurance company.

Furthermore, in most contingency cases, the attorney actually fronts the litigation expenses that the consumer cannot afford. What Glueck fails to point out is that plaintiff attorneys lose a significant number of cases and are never compensated for their work on many cases.

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RICHARD H. GERINGER

HOLLY M. McGREGOR

Attorneys at law

Mission Viejo

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* Michael Glueck’s advertisement for Senate Bill 2214, disguised as an opinion piece, is dangerous propaganda.

Glueck’s organization, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, may have the lofty goal of protecting consumers, but the article ignores the reality of legal representation.

Indeed, Glueck’s lament that he cannot find an attorney willing to represent a defendant on a contingency basis reveals a complete misunderstanding that contingency arrangements are designed to help plaintiffs who cannot afford a lawyer. A “contingency defense” is an oxymoron.

Put simply, SB 2214 hurts consumers. Although there are many problems with the bill, the most dangerous portion is the provision authorizing review of the lawyer’s fee for “fairness” after the case is over.

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This provision sounds commendable on its face, but it ignores the fact that contingency rates of 30-40% exist because the attorney takes the entire risk on the case, win or lose.

Since Glueck is in favor of reducing the lawyer’s fee after a victory is obtained, he should properly call for a law that requires a contingency client to pay a “fair” rate for the lawyer’s time if the case is lost.

If “fairness” review is allowed, attorneys will simply refuse to take contingency cases. Injured consumers will then have limited or no means of pursuing their claims, and we will soon hear from Glueck decrying that lawyers refuse to represent the poor.

STEPHEN McNAMARA

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