Attorney Fee Multipliers in PIP and the Search for a Guiding Lodestar

In October 2017, the Supreme Court again addressed the issue of contingency fee multipliers to awards of attorneys’ fees. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Plaintiff attorneys felt a tinge of delight and perhaps delayed buying their lottery tickets in hopes that this new decision will help them win an attorney fee multiplier if they prevail in a PIP suit. While HB 119 in 2012 eliminated multipliers from newer PIP lawsuits, there are still many older cases that are now being resolved which face the possibility of large awards of attorney fees going to Plaintiff attorneys. Additionally, there is no penalty for a Plaintiff attorney to attempt to pursue a multiplier, thus the key question is how to best defend against this potential windfall.

To understand the new decision in Joyce v. Federated Nat’l Ins. Co., 2017 Fla. LEXIS 2070 (Fla. 2017), it is beneficial to look back at the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of how and when to award a multiplier. The seminal decision regarding the applicability of multipliers is still the Quanstrom decision from 1990. Specifically, the requirements under Quanstrom necessary to find a fee multiplier are:

  1. Whether the relevant market requires a contingency fee multiplier to obtain competent counsel.
  2. Whether the attorney was able to mitigate the risk of non-payment in any way.
  3. Whether any of the factors set forth in Rowe are applicable, especially, the amount involved, the results obtained, and the type of fee arrangement between the attorney and his client. Id. at 834.

Joyce re-iterates that a market inquiry as to whether a multiplier was necessary to obtain competent counsel is the primary factor under the Quanstrom[1] requirements. This is important to PIP litigation since there are few, if any, potential PIP lawsuits that cannot find a warm and welcoming PIP attorney eager and willing to take the case.

Interestingly, the Florida Supreme Court in Joyce noted that the United States Supreme Court in 1992 revisited the issue of contingency fee multipliers in Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557 (1992), concluding that “enhancements for contingency [was] not permitted under the fee-shifting statutes at issue…[and] Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, reasoned that enhancement for contingency would likely duplicate in substantial part factors already subsumed in the lodestar.” Joyce. at 17, citing Dague at 567.

Under Joyce, the Florida Supreme Court separated itself from this federal precedent and continued to allow the use of multipliers under Florida law. The fear was that without the possibility of contingency multipliers some individuals with meritorious claims would fail to obtain competent counsel and the Florida Supreme Court noted “their usefulness in helping parties secure legal representation and their importance in ensuring access to Courts.” Id. at 17-18 citing Bell v. U.S.B. Acquisition Co., Inc., 734 So.2d 403, 411 (Fla. 1999). In other words, the Florida Supreme Court was concerned that Justice Scalia failed to consider that without a potential multiplier there is a danger of never obtaining competent counsel. Id. at 25. But with the thousands of PIP lawsuits being filed every year, can a Plaintiff truly make an argument that finding a PIP attorney is difficult?

Under Joyce, it appears that contingency fee multipliers are alive and well under Florida Law, and there are some circumstances where they are certainly warranted. Paradoxically, the best argument against the applicability of multipliers to the majority of PIP lawsuits comes from the Joyce opinion itself. The majority opinion which intentionally diverged from federal precedent on multipliers in order to preserve access to courts appears to have absolutely no concern about whether prohibiting multipliers in PIP lawsuits somehow prevents individuals from obtaining fair access to courts or diminishes one’s ability to obtain competent counsel. The dissent also argues that PIP litigation suffered no decrease in volume after HB 119 and that there was no negative impact on an insured’s ability to obtain counsel in PIP cases. Id. at 40-41. The dissent even cites the Plaintiff’s own expert testimony that there is no lack of attorneys willing and able to take PIP cases and “that same fee expert begrudgingly ‘hate[d]’ to admit that plaintiffs’ attorneys throughout the entire State of Florida are abundantly motivated to take PIP cases (even though PIP cases contain no possibility of a multiplier).” Id. at 42.

The majority opinion in Joyce actually agreed with the dissent that PIP litigation is different because of the number of attorneys willing to take PIP lawsuits. The majority opinion notes that PIP should not be compared to other types of first-party litigation since, “the fact that there are attorneys who specialize in PIP claims, which can be handled with relative ease in a volume practice, does not correlate with the availability of competent attorneys who are willing to litigate other types of insurance coverage cases, where generally more complex issues are raised.” Id. at 25. Clearly, the majority opinion is willing to differentiate PIP lawsuits from other types of first-party litigation due to the ease of obtaining a competent attorney.

Ultimately, none of the Quanstrom factors changed with the recent Joyce decision. However, the new opinion does provide an excellent analysis and justification as to how multipliers developed under Florida law and why the Supreme Court continues to think multipliers are necessary to ensure fair and equal access to the courts. It is important to keep in mind that Joyce does not mean a PIP lawsuit can never justify a multiplier. In fact, the Quanstrom decision is a PIP lawsuit[2]. Understanding the best way to contest aggressive attempts to collect fee multipliers and create an appropriate record at the trial court level remains important in PIP litigation.

[1] Standard Guaranty Insurance Co. v. Quanstrom,555 So.2d 828 (Fla. 1990)
[2] Other notable PIP lawsuits have been awarded multipliers after there was substantial and competent evidence to justify that a multiplier was necessary.  See  State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Palma, 555 So.2d 836 (Fla. 1990)

If you have any questions on this issue, please feel free to contact our Insurance Services Team at info@roiglawyers.com.

ROIG Lawyers is a minority-owned litigation firm with a primary focus on Insurance Defense Litigation. We serve as primary counsel for numerous national and regional carriers and corporations related to all aspects of insurance litigation from seven offices throughout the state of Florida. ROIG Lawyers does not intend to create an attorney-client relationship by offering this information, and anyone’s review of the information shall not be deemed to create such a relationship. E-mail list/s from ROIG Lawyers are intended to provide information of general interest to the public and are not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems.  You should consult a lawyer with regard to specific legal issues that require attention.

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Filed under auto insurance, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Personal Injury Protection, PIP, PIP/No Fault, Uncategorized

Panama City Woman Sinks SUV for Insurance Money

According to the Panama City News Herald, 65-year-old Debra Jenkins has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud after having her SUV driven into a lagoon and pretending that the vehicle was stolen. The police had reportedly found a stick inside the vehicle on the driver’s floorboard which appeared to be purposely placed there to hold the gas pedal after the car was removed from the water. Video evidence from Jenkins’ neighbor also showed her SUV leaving her home together with another SUV, then only the second SUV returning that night with two people inside.

Jenkins later admitted to deputies that she and a friend had devised the plan to get rid of the vehicle and claim insurance money.

Click here for full article.

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Filed under Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Fraud

Florida Man Caught Staging Crash on Dashcam

According to the Sun Sentinel, a Florida man was arrested on Friday, October 6th in connection with an alleged staged crash that occurred in December of 2016. 65-year-old Mauril Aldophe of Delray Beach plotted to force a tow truck to rear-end him. Unfortunately for Mr. Aldophe, the tow truck was equipped with a dashcam capturing footage of him abruptly stopping for no apparent reason and then driving forward for several feet, throwing his car into reverse, and then slamming back into the tow truck.

According to investigators, Mr. Aldophe went to a medical clinic three days after the incident and filed a personal injury claim stating a truck had rear-ended him while he was stopped at a red light.

Mr. Aldophe now faces charges for insurance fraud and participation in an intentional crash.

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Filed under Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Insurance Claims, Insurance Fraud, Personal Injury Protection, PIP, PIP/No Fault

Florida Supreme Court Issues Order Extending Legal Time Limits for Miami-Dade Courts

We hope you withstood the wrath of Hurricane Irma with the least amount of damage to your home and surroundings. We want to keep you advised of the status of the litigation you have entrusted to us here at ROIG Lawyers. On September 19th, the Florida Supreme Court issued an administrative order extending all time limits through close of business on Monday, September 18th, 2017. This includes any deadline allowed by rule of procedure, court order, statutes applicable to court proceedings, or otherwise pertaining to court proceedings.

The Court further recognized in its order that there may be instances where, because of this emergency, these and other time limits applicable to matters in or outside Miami-Dade County could not be met even upon application of the periods stated above. If such a claim is made, the Court in which jurisdiction vested is directed to resolve the issue on a case-by-case basis when a party demonstrates that the lack of compliance with requisite time periods was directly attributable to this emergency.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue in greater detail, please feel free to contact us by emailing marketing@roiglawyers.com or call us at 1-855-ROIGLAW.

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Filed under Florida Supreme Court, Hurricane Irma, Miami-Dade County

New Statute To Help Deflect Frivolous ADA Lawsuits

As reported in the Miami Herald, Florida lawmakers have implemented a new law aimed at ADA public accommodation compliance lawsuits often pressuring small businesses and property owners into quick settlements in order to avoid lengthy and costly court battles. In an analysis published in March by The News-Press (Fort Myers), of all the lawsuits filed under the ADA’s public accommodations law in Florida during the past five years, more than half of the approximately 6,000 suits were filed by just 12 plaintiffs. In addition, many of the plaintiffs are represented by the same law firms. The bill, receiving unanimous approval in both the Florida House and Senate during the 2017 legislative session, was recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott and is now in effect.

The new statute enables businesses and property owners to take substantive, preventative measures to help insulate themselves from the most frivolous claims. Under the law, a business or property owner may retain a qualified expert to conduct an inspection of their property to ensure compliance with building codes satisfying the ADA’s requirements. If the property is found to be in compliance with the ADA, the expert may issue a certificate of conformity that includes the date of inspection, proof of the expert’s qualifications, and a statement confirming that the property is in conformity. For properties that are not found to be in compliance, the owner may develop and submit a remediation plan approved by a qualified expert indicating that the property will be brought into conformity within a specified time period.

The compliance certifications or remediation plans may be filed with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which will now maintain a publicly accessible website to serve as a registry for all of the certifications and remediation plans that it receives. Importantly, a remediation plan in existence before an ADA lawsuit is filed could serve to moot such a lawsuit.

The new law does not prohibit disabled plaintiffs from filing ADA public accommodations lawsuits, nor does it prohibit plaintiffs’ attorneys from seeking fees. It does, however, provide Florida businesses and property owners with a means to potentially defeat or limit frivolous ADA barrier-to-access lawsuits and greatly minimize their exposure to related attorney fees and costs.

Click here for the full article.

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Filed under ADA, FL Legislation, Florida, Lawsuits

Helping You Navigate the Choppy Waters of Hurricane Claims

Our thoughts continue to be with all those affected by Hurricane Irma. We recognize many of you will face challenges in the days and weeks ahead. In staying true to our values of loyalty and teamwork, we want to let you know that ROIG Lawyers is here to help.

With the upcoming influx of property and insurance claims to be filed, top-of-mind awareness among claim handling professionals is key in identifying fraudulent and inflated hurricane claims.

We have a close-knit group of statewide First Party Property attorneys dedicated to providing quality and proactive legal services to our clients in the area of property defense. We utilize a proactive approach in which we litigate to property claims and moreover, if the need arises, we have experienced trial attorneys on our team ready to take files through trial.

We are also available to provide complimentary in-house CE courses to our clients and colleagues as a value-added service. We do this to ensure that our clients and prospective clients are making informed decisions based on the most up to date and relevant information. These are a few of the courses that may be of most interest to you and your team.

  • Public Adjusters and SIU, 2 credit hours
    This course will inform and update insurance adjusters on the role of a public adjuster when investigating a homeowner’s claim. The course will educate adjusters on the statutory authority for public adjusters as well as ethical requirements. Adjusters will be educated on common tactics and provided with examples of ways adjusters can assist with a fraudulent claim. Finally, adjusters will be educated on the potential pitfalls associated with alleging insurance fraud.
  • Water Mitigation Claims, 1 or 2 credit hours
    This course will provide a basic overview of the various requirements of water mitigation services pursuant to the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (“IICRC”). Specifically, the course addresses the types of machines used, the categories and classes of losses, and various SIU issues to be aware of when adjusting these types of losses.
  • Examinations Under Oath and the Law, 2 credit hours
    This course will inform insurance adjusters about examinations under oath and how and why they are used in practice. Additionally, the course indicates the information insurance adjusters should gather in anticipation of an Examination Under Oath.

If you have any questions, concerns, or to schedule a complimentary CE course, please contact the Marketing Department of ROIG Lawyers at marketing@roiglawyers.com.

ROIG Lawyers will continue to stand with you and as always, we thank you for standing by us.

ROIG Lawyers is a minority-owned litigation firm with a primary focus on Insurance Defense Litigation. We serve as primary counsel for numerous national and regional carriers and corporations related to all aspects of insurance litigation from seven offices throughout the state of Florida. ROIG Lawyers does not intend to create an attorney-client relationship by offering this information, and anyone’s review of the information shall not be deemed to create such a relationship. E-mail list/s from ROIG Lawyers are intended to provide information of general interest to the public and are not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems.  You should consult a lawyer with regard to specific legal issues that require attention.

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Filed under Florida, Hurricane Irma, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Property Insurance

Insurance Agent Allegedly Sold Fraudulent Insurance Policy

According to the Palm Beach Post, Fred Thomas Jr., 39, is facing charges of fraud and embezzlement between $300 and $2,000 after he allegedly sold a Palm Beach County woman fraudulent/fake car insurance during a three-year period. Thomas was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol on Interstate 95 for driving with a suspended license when the trooper found an active warrant for Thomas in the insurance fraud case.

Click here for the full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Fraud, Palm Beach County

Pilot Theodore R. Wright III Faces Decades in Prison for Insurance Fraud

As reported by Flying Magazine, rising social media star Theodore Robert Wright III who gained notoriety for chronicling his larger-than-life flying exploits in photos on Facebook and Instagram has been charged with intentionally crashing his plane into the Gulf of Mexico to collect insurance money. Wright is facing serious prison time after federal law enforcement officials charged the 32-year-old with multiple counts of insurance fraud.

Wright and three associates (Shane Gordon of Texas, Raymond Fosdick of South Carolina, and Edward Delima of Hawaii) are charged with being involved in the destruction of a 1971 Cessna Citation, a Lamborghini Gallardo and a luxury sailboat in Hawaii, all to collect insurance payouts.

That’s not where the alleged fraud ended, prosecutors say. In an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas, Wright and three associates are charged with multiple felonies. Besides the Baron, officials say Wright was involved in the destruction of a 1971 Cessna Citation, a Lamborghini Gallardo and a luxury sailboat in Hawaii, all to collect insurance payouts. Prosecutors allege the men would acquire vehicles, insure them, destroy the vehicles and then collect the insurance money, a conspiracy that lasted from March 2012 to March 2017, according to the indictment.

Click here for full article.

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Filed under Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Fraud

Auto Insurance Market to Shrink by 2050 According to KPMG

According to updated research by KPMG, the auto insurance market will shrink by more than 70 percent by 2050 due to autonomous vehicle technology and a rise in on-demand transportation, shifting liability to manufacturers.

KPMG did an updated study called The Chaotic Middle: The Autonomous Vehicle and Disruption in Automobile Insurance that shows an increase in the demand for new types of insurance products with traditional auto insurance carriers facing the threat of obsolescence. Auto manufacturers have become the likely alternative to covering driving risk according to the study.

According to the consulting firm, three major forces are disrupting the current auto insurance marketplace:

  • Autonomous Technology – making cars increasingly safer
  • Auto Manufacturers (OEMs) – assuming more of the driving risk and associated liability
  • Mobility-On-Demand – quickly translating into the need for less personal auto coverage

KPMG believes that all of this means that auto insurance carriers need to act now. “Insurance companies will have to make important strategic and tactical changes sooner than anticipated to navigate through this turbulent transformation of the industry,” said Jerry Albright, principal in KPMG’s Actuarial and Insurance Risk practice.

Click here to read the full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Autonomous Technology, Insurance

Florida Insurance Rates Rise Thanks to Windshield-Replacement Schemes

According to Insurance Business America, your auto insurance premiums are going up, all because of ongoing windshield-replacement schemes.  As reported by Ryan Smith of Insurance Business America, these windshield schemes involve drivers with cracked windshields signing over insurance benefits to windshield repair and replacement shops.  These shops, through an “assignment of benefits”, will then submit an inflated invoice for the work allegedly rendered.

The Tampa Bay area has become the hub of the fraud and abuse involving these schemes.  More often then not, the fraudulent schemes are no fault of the insureds.   Florida law states that a deductible cannot be applied to windshield replacement and repair services.  This allows these shops to advertise that the work being done is “free” to the insureds.  The result of these “free” services has led to over 1900 windshield-claim lawsuits in Florida in 2016 alone; increasing litigation costs and ultimately hitting everyone’s pocket.

Click here for full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Florida Division of Insurance Fraud, Insurance, Insurance Defense, Insurance Fraud, Windshield, Windshield Damage Scam