Trial Lawyer Jackpot Spotlights Lawsuit Abuse

Trial Lawyer Jackpot Spotlights Lawsuit Abuse

Lawyers Rake in $143,000 – Client Gets Only $6,950 in Questionable Case

DaimlerChrysler will appeal a recent court decision in West Virginia, in which a judge disregarded a jury verdict and awarded outrageous legal fees to trial lawyers, approximately 20 times greater than the plaintiff’s award
More than 25 percent of the fees that were awarded to the plaintiff lawyers were solely related to their time spent seeking recovery of fees
“This is a prime example of the unpredictability of America’s civil justice system that damages state competitiveness and hurts consumers,” said Steven B. Hantler, Assistant General Counsel, DaimlerChrysler Corporation. “The true victims in this case are the citizens of West Virginia.”

Auburn Hills, Mich., Aug 1, 2005 –
Background
Larry and Carolyn George of Tornado, West Virginia, purchased a new 2000 Dodge Intrepid in 2000. The Georges initially complained of transmission shifting problems.The vehicle was inspected two separate times by DaimlerChrysler technical advisors and no problem was found during either inspection. Despite this, the dealer did replace the transmission control module and gearshift mechanism, and performed other repairs covered under warranty for customer satisfaction.

Nonetheless, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler Corporation claiming breach of implied merchantability, violation of the lemon law and unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The plaintiffs turned down two settlement offers. At the time of trial, the vehicle had 65,000 miles on the odometer.

Eventually, the jury returned a verdict in plaintiffs’ favor on one of the claims (breach of implied warranty), and awarded the Georges $6,950, which was actually lower than the company’s last settlement offer. At the time, the jury specifically did not award attorney’s fees. However, the trial lawyers filed a motion to recoup their fees, and the judge awarded them a sum that is approximately 20 times greater than what the jury awarded the plaintiff – a total of $143,026.66, factored at $300 per hour for attorneys and $175-$225 per hour for associates.

DaimlerChrysler Spokesperson is Available
Steve Hantler is available to discuss this case in the context of lawsuit abuses across the nation and the current legal reform movement making progress nationally and in the states. Hantler is DaimlerChrysler Corporation’s assistant general counsel and Chairman of the American Justice Partnership (AJP), which champions legal reform in the states and is affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers. A recognized legal reform expert, Hantler is well published in this area, including his provocative Wall Street Journal commentaries, “How to Beat the Trial Bar” and “States Compete to Clear the Tort Bar.”

Related information about the need for legal reform can be found at http://www.americanjusticepartnership.org.

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3 Responses to “Trial Lawyer Jackpot Spotlights Lawsuit Abuse”

  1. Mike Bodey Says:

    DaimlerChrysler says that a Kanawha County couple’s victory in a lawsuit against the automaker over a defective car is the latest “poster child” for more changes in West Virginia’s civil justice system.

    Company officials say that the award of $140,000 in legal fees and costs to the couple’s lawyers was “outrageous.” They have asked the state Supreme Court to block the fees pending an appeal.

    “The American Tort Reform Association has designated the entire state of West Virginia as a ‘Judicial Hellhole,’” said DaimlerChrysler spokesman Michael Palese. “We think that the George case is a poster child for why groups like ATRA believe that is the case.

    But court records show that DaimlerChrysler turned down offers to settle for less than half that amount in legal costs.

    Those records also show that company lawyers billed more hours on the case than consumer lawyers from The Grubb Law Group in Charleston.

    And, a public relations campaign by DaimlerChrysler comes after the company has been sanctioned several times by state and federal courts in West Virginia and elsewhere for violating litigation rules in lawsuits filed by consumers.

    In 2001, Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman forced DaimlerChrysler to pay $27,000 after he sanctioned the company for not turning over documents to consumer lawyers in a timely fashion.

    In March 2002, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary E. Stanley cited a “pattern and practice by Chrysler of repeated stonewalling and noncompliance with appropriate discovery requests.”

    Stanley also sanctioned Chrysler, and said that the company’s lawyers were trying to defeat a consumer lawsuit by blocking access to documents the consumers’ lawyers had a right to obtain.

    “Chrysler has engaged in misleading and dishonest maneuvers to accomplish what its motions to the District Court have not,” Stanley said.

    Eventually, DaimlerChrysler agreed to pay another $35,000 in consumers’ legal fees as sanctions for discovery violations in the federal court case.

    In a footnote in her 45-page opinion, Stanley said that DaimlerChrysler’s behavior in the West Virginia cases “is not an isolated incident.”

    Stanley noted a February 2001 ruling in North Carolina in which a judge entered a default judgment against the company “following repeated discovery abuses.”

    The North Carolina judge wrote that Chrysler “has demonstrated a pattern of discovery abuse” and a “pattern of submitting objections which were not made in good faith and which were intended to harass the Plaintiffs and to increase the cost of litigation.”

    The controversy over the latest DaimlerChrysler case in Kanawha County started in early August. The company issued a news release that prompted stories in several media outlets, including an opinion column in The Chicago Tribune.

    On Friday, DaimlerChrysler’s assistant general counsel is scheduled to take part in a “Civil Justice Symposium” at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting at The Greenbrier Resort.

    Steve B. Hantler’s talk is called, “Why legal reform is urgently needed to preserve America’s business system.”

    In 2002, Larry and Carolyn George of Tornado sued DaimlerChrysler after having repeated problems with a 2000 Dodge Intrepid they bought at Nitro Dodge.

    After a five-day trial in November 2004, Kanawha Circuit Judge James C. Stuckey threw out seven of the Georges’ 12 claims against DaimlerChrysler. The Georges withdrew two other claims.

    A jury found in the Georges’ favor in one of the two remaining claims: Breach of the implied warranty that the vehicle would run properly. The couple was awarded $4,500 in costs to repair the vehicle and $2,450 in damages for their annoyance and inconvenience.

    Under state and federal law, the Georges’ lawyers were then entitled to have DaimlerChrysler pay “the aggregate amount of costs and expenses” incurred in the case.

    In late June, Stuckey issued a ruling that awarded the Grubb firm — founded by David Grubb, a former state Senator and longtime consumer advocate — $143,000 in fees and costs.

    Stuckey noted that company lawyers worked more hours on the case than did the Grubb firm. The judge also noted in his seven-page order that DaimlerChrysler lawyers “did not challenge any specific expenditure” by Grubb’s firm.

    On Aug. 1, DaimlerChrysler issued a news release about the ruling with the headline, “Trial lawyer jackpot spotlights lawsuit abuse.”

    The release noted that the legal fees were 20 times greater than the jury’s award to the Georges and that 25 percent of the fees “were solely related to their time spent seeking recovery of fees.”

    “This is a prime example of the unpredictability of America’s civil justice system that damages state competitiveness and hurts consumers,” DaimlerChrysler’s Hantler said in the release. “The true victims in this case are the citizens of West Virginia.”

    A little more than a week later, on Aug. 10, local DaimlerChrysler lawyer Harry F. Bell Jr. asked the state Supreme Court to block the fee award to Grubb’s firm until a full appeal could be heard.

    In a response filed Aug. 18, Grubb noted that, before seeking a fee award from the court, his firm sought to settle the fee issue for $65,000 — about 20 percent less than the amount of time and costs already expended on the case.

    On Wednesday, DaimlerChrysler’s Palese said that Hantler did not plan to discuss the Georges’ case in his Greenbrier speech.

    “He’s got a lot more important things to talk about — how important legal reform is to the states, and what value legal reform has to the economic well-being and quality of life in those states,” Palese said. “At the end of the day, we’re past this case and dealing with larger issues with the business community and public policy community.”

    To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

  2. Mike Bodey Says:

    I think it is questionable that this site would state some of the facts, and call the case questionable.

  3. High Octane Says:

    The article is not the opinion of this site, and is from Damiler Chrysler.
    I like to see both sides of the story, Its readers like yourself that help do just that, making this a better site.

    In no way do ANY of the articles on this site represent this sites opinion, we try to stay nuetral and post for information purposes only.

    Keep those opinions comming!


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