CHARLESTON – Grubb Law Group will collect $143,026.66 for representing clients who won less than a twentieth of that amount at trial.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declined March 28 to hear an appeal from automaker DaimlerChrysler seeking a reduction of the fees.
Successful plaintiffs in some types of cases can pass their legal bills to the losing side, but DaimlerChrysler argued that the plaintiffs did not succeed.
Grubb Law Group represented Larry George and Carolyn George, who claimed they bought a defective Dodge Intrepid. They filed 12 counts seeking damages.
DaimlerChrysler offered to settle for $10,500. The Georges turned it down.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge James Stucky conducted a jury trial in 2004. The Georges prevailed on one count, breach of implied merchantability.
The jury awarded $4,500 for repairs and $2,450 for annoyance and inconvenience, for a total of $6,950.
Interest raised the verdict to $8,750, still less than the settlement offer.
Attorney David Grubb then submitted a bill for $143,026.66.
It included $58,950 for 196.5 hours of his work at $300 an hour and $61,402.50 for 272.9 hours of Cameron McKinney's work at $225 an hour.
Stucky declared the bill reasonable, finding it consistent with prior awards in his court.
DaimlerChrysler appealed, arguing that the fee encouraged unnecessary fee driven litigation and discouraged settlement.
Justices Brent Benjamin and Spike Maynard wished to hear the appeal, but Justices Joseph Albright, Robin Davis and Larry Starcher declined to hear it.
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, criticized the outcome.
"Sadly it's no April Fool's prank that the $143,000 fee for a West Virginia personal injury lawyer is 20 times what his client was awarded," he said. "The lawyer gets $20 for every dollar his client gets? This after the lawyer rejected a settlement offer which was higher than the jury award! It's no joking matter that the West Virginia lawsuit system rates us 50th in the nation for having a fair legal climate."