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Plaintiff Injured in Crane Collapse, New York Appellate Court Rules on Legal Fee Dispute


On March 15, 2008, a couple of Greek descent was sitting in their apartment on East 50th Street when a crane collapsed from the roof of a nearby construction site of a high rise building. The crane fell on the apartment of the Greek couple. The woman ran out of her apartment thinking that there was a terrorist attack. She fell down the stairs and twisted her ankle.

A New York Injury Lawyer said the Greek woman retained the services of a lady lawyer for her personal injury case. After the investigation of the crane collapse, the City of New York returned the premises to the landlord for repairs. The landlord failed and refused to repair the Greek couple’s apartment. Instead, he threatened to simply end their lease. The couple had brought a case against the landlord to force him to repair and restore them to their apartment. The landlord was negotiating the buyout of the couple so that they would just end their lease and move out. A Nassau County Personal Injury Lawyer said the husband and the wife retained the services of a male lawyer to represent them in the buy-out case with the landlord. The male lawyer sent the Greek couple a retainer letter that stated that he was representing the couple only in the buy-out case but not in the personal injury case as this was being handled by another lawyer. They agreed to pay him 1/3 of any money they will be awarded by the court or paid through a settlement of their claims.

While the lady lawyer was working on the personal injury case of the wife, another lawyer, a male, was working on the buy-out case with the landlord. Eight months after the accident, the lady lawyer filed the personal injury suit. Depositions were taken already during discovery at pre-trial.

In the meantime, the landlord signified to the Greek couple that he was willing to pay them $700,000 in settlement of the buy-out case. The male lawyer drafted a release of the couple’s claims in the buy-out case. Just before the landlord and the couple were about to sign the General Release, the male lawyer added a new claim: that the landlord negligently inflicted emotional distress to the couple in refusing to repair the apartment. It appears that the male lawyer inserted that provision because the landlord wanted his insurance to indemnify him. The landlord’s insurance policy covered emotional distress as one of the covered events so he wanted that added so he can collect from his insurer. The couple signed the general release and they were paid the amount of $700,000.00. The male lawyer was paid his 1/3 share of this amount.

During the deposition of the wife in her personal injury case, she mentioned the General Release. A Queens Personal Injury Lawyer said she claimed that she didn’t read English very well and no one explained the contents of the General Release to her. All she knew was that her husband had told her to sign it so that the case they filed against their landlord will be settled. So she did.

The lady lawyer then filed a lien on the amount settled. She also filed a case against the lawyer asking that he return to her the 1/3 share of the settled amount which he was paid. The lady lawyer alleged that when the buy-out lawyer amended the complaint to add emotional distress, he had encroached on a claim that was already being handled by her. Thus, she claims that any settlement of the claim for personal injury regardless of who brought about the settlement.

The Court held that the lien of the lady lawyer was proper because she is entitled to be compensated for service she has rendered. The Court found that she had rendered service as a lawyer in the personal injury case and must be paid 1/3 share of the settlement paid to the couple for the personal injury case. The male lawyer knew that the personal injury case was not his to litigate or to settle and so he was ordered by the Court to pay the lady lawyer that sum.

If you have been involved in a construction accident, or have suffered injury due to the negligence of another, speak to Stephen Bilkis and Associates. Skilled lawyers are ready and willing to assist you in filing your claim.

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