The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled in the Orlando negligent security lawsuit of Anderson v. Hilton Hotel that plaintiff is entitled to have his attorney’s fees covered, per F.S. 768.79 and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.442.
Plaintiff’s victory comes after he won $1.7 million in damages from four different defendants, though three of those were characterized as a single entity during trial. It was this issue that complicated the matter of whether plaintiff was entitled to attorney fees.
Normally, personal injury plaintiffs do not pay attorney fees upfront. Instead, lawyers offer services on a contingency fee basis, which means clients pay nothing upfront and agree to sign over a portion of their damage awards if they win (usually somewhere around 30 percent, though it varies depending on the facts/ complexity of the case). This type of agreement allows more meritorious civil actions to make their way into court, rather than creating an impossible bar for persons with limited means. However, there are situations in which the other side can be ordered to pay attorneys’ fees to the winner. For a plaintiff, this occurs when a reasonable settlement offer is made, not accepted within 30 days and then plaintiff wins the case, being awarded in excess of 25 percent of that original offer.
That’s what happened in Anderson, though the waters were muddied by the fact three of the defendants were referred to in court proceedings as a single firm.
Plaintiff was seriously injured – almost killed, in fact – in an armed robbery/ car jacking/ shooting that happened in the parking lot of an Embassy Suites hotel. Although there was security on-site, the guard was busy carrying out housekeeping duties. Plaintiffs referred to this worker as a “uniformed housekeeper.” A staffer in the lobby instructed plaintiff to park his vehicle in an unlit area of the parking lot – knowing it was poorly lit and in a rougher part of town. The lights that normally illuminated that section of the parking lot had burned out and the hotel hadn’t replaced them because it was waiting for several more to burn out before renting a lift to replace them all at once.
The injured man and his wife sued defendants for personal injury and loss of consortium. Named defendants included:
- The hotel.
- The hotel management company.
- The hotel investment company.
- A private security firm.
Plaintiff and his wife extended separate settlement offers to each of these defendants. These offers were rejected. Plaintiff’s wife ultimately withdrew her loss of consortium claims.
The collective amount of plaintiff’s settlement offers was $1.7 million. That’s what he ultimately ended up receiving at trial, with $1.25 million of that apportioned to the hotel defendants (referred to as “Embassy Suites”) and the rest to the security firm.
Our injury attorneys in Orlando understand the question was whether these damages met the excess 25 percent qualification of the aforementioned statute. Although the trial court and appeals court ruled, “No,” the state supreme court quashed those rulings and determined plaintiff was in fact entitled to attorneys’ fees. The reason was that the settlement offers could not be aggregated before being compared to the damage award. Instead, they were rightly compared individually to the damage award. So for example, the $650,000 settlement offer extended to the hotel was to be compared to the $1.7 million that was ultimately awarded. That meant plaintiff’s settlement offer met the statutory requirements and his attorneys’ fees should be covered.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Anderson v. Hilton Hotel, Nov. 3, 2016, Florida Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Smith v. Logisticare – $5M Verdict for Fall Injury on Paratransit Van, Nov. 8, 2016, Orlando Injury Lawyer Blog