Court of Appeals of Indiana: Attorneys’ Fees Awarded Should Be Proportionate to the Claims Prevailed On
Posted on February 5th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors
In a July 2013 decision, the Court of Appeals of Indiana, in the case of Longest v Sledge, 2013 WL 3744095 (Ind. App., 2013), awarded attorney fees for only one quarter of the billed hours, and reduced the attorney’s hourly rate to a rate prevailing in the community. The consequence of this decision was almost a 90% reduction in the attorney fees requested.
In October 1999, following the death of their son in a head-on collision, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the driver. Following a bench trial, the court found in favor of the Plaintiffs on the issue of liability but limited damages to funeral and burial expenses, and the costs of the administration of the estate (including attorney fees related to the administration of the estate). In response to the Plaintiffs’ appeal on this decision, the Court confirmed that Plaintiffs should only be able to recover attorney fees related to one of four claims, since the remaining three claims were not related to the administration of the estate. In determining the exact amount of attorney fees to be awarded, the Court stated “there were four original claims and we are now dealing with one, the court finds that the equitable solution is to award attorney fees for one fourth of the request.” This decision is a result of a court’s inability to determine the exact number of hours spent on the prevailing claim, since this litigation took years and all time and expenses were “lumped together in the attorney fee affidavit.” Therefore, in order to prevent the case from continuing even longer, the Court awarded one fourth of the requested attorneys’ fees and expenses, an amount considered proportionate to the claims that the Plaintiffs prevailed on. Furthermore, the Court reduced the Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ billable rate from $350 to $150, which was a prevailing rate in the community. The significance of the reductions can be seen from the fact that Plaintiffs requested $105,994.00 in attorney fees, and were awarded only $11,356.50.
This case illustrates that in determining the amount of attorney fees to award, courts are primarily guided by the principles of efficiency and reasonableness. Further, courts may request parties to submit detailed bills to better understand how an attorney justifies their fees.
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