Personal Injury Protection (PIP) attorneys don’t deserve the fat fees they try to collect for filing PIP lawsuits, says one well-respected South Florida judge.
“I don’t believe a PIP attorney is entitled to $450 an hour, Miami-Dade County Judge Marvin H. Gillman said at a hearing held May 10, 2011. “There is nothing so complicated about PIP that deserves a neurosurgeon attorney to handle it.”
Well put! We’ve been saying all along that attorneys who charge upwards of $350 an hour to file basic paperwork are using the legal system for personal gain and forcing honest drivers to pay too much for their auto insurance. We applaud the courage Judge Gillman showed.
At issue was a demand by the Patino Law Firm of Hialeah to be paid more than $40,000 in legal fees for 98.5 hours of work at $425 per hour. Attorney Ryan Peterson of the firm represented one of his bosses, Richard Patino, who worked on the case when it was originally filed in 2001. Peterson sought to block UAIC’s request to take a deposition of Patino.
“I don’t understand why anybody who is seeking, in this case $40,000 in attorney’s fees ten years after the fact would object to being deposed to defend their claim for $40,000 in fees,” Judge Gillman said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Judge Gillman went on to question the fees that PIP lawyers demand of insurance companies as part of a legal settlement.
“You know, some guy swinging a hammer playing ordinary lawyer should be able to handle these cases for $150 to $200 an hour,” Judge Gillman said. “You don’t need somebody at $450 an hour to handle PIP, not unless it’s become so complicated in the past ten years that it’s beyond my comprehension.”
“People two years out of law school are doing PIP cases, Judge Gillman said. “And they don’t get $450 an hour. They wouldn’t even dare ask for that amount of money.”
“It just offends me that Mr. Patino asks for that kind of money from a third party,” Gillman said. “Now, if he wants to get [that] from his client, that is his client’s deal and himself. But not from the third party with the court’s approval. I can’t condone that at all.”
UAIC argued before Judge Gillman that it was entitled to know more information before going into a fee hearing over the amount. Peterson had objected, arguing that “other county courts have called depositions after the fact ‘Rambo-like overkill,’” according to a court transcript.
Judge Gillman disagreed, saying, “Why should that be treated any differently than a plaintiff who is seeking to collect a judgment against somebody?”
Peterson’s response carried no weight. Judge Gillman ordered a deposition, saying that the UAIC attorney could “take his deposition until the cows come home as long as it pertains to the point about the $40,000. Or why he’s entitled to $450 an hour, which, in my opinion is an outrageous amount of money.”
We hope the other county court judges take notice of Judge Gillman’s comments. Too often we hear from plaintiff attorneys that they have no incentive to settle because they know the judges are going to give them everything they want.
Some judges have even mentioned that they know the rates awarded to plaintiff PIP attorneys are out of control, but they can’t do anything about it because they fear they won’t be re-elected. It’s a very sad state of affairs, and one of the reasons South Florida is rated the Number One judicial hellhole year after year.