Houston v. C.G. Security – Defense Sanction Covers Contingency Fees

In the recent case of Houston v. C.G. Security Services, Inc., a plaintiff in Indiana alleged negligent security was a proximate cause of her slip-and-fall injury sustained during a New Year’s Eve hotel party. stairs6

The appeal in the case recently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit concerned defendant’s reported engagement in a pattern of “obstreperous discovery behavior,” including submitting false documentation and impeding the fair conduct of depositions.

Although the court granted summary judgment to defendant on the issue of liability, it nonetheless imposed sanctions (as recommended by a magistrate), which included ordering defendant to pay $119,000 in plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and $16,500 in plaintiff’s court costs. That ruling was later affirmed by the federal appeals court. 

According to court records, plaintiff accused the security company (as well as the hotel) for breach of contract, intentional misconduct and negligence after she suffered injuries in a fall at a downtown Indianapolis hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2010.

After she filed her lawsuit, plaintiff sought to obtain information from defendant security firm regarding where the various employees were stationed the night of the party, the hours they worked and their qualifications.

However, the defense reportedly refused to provide it. Plaintiffs called these actions “unprofessional,” and sought court sanctions. Defense argued plaintiffs were involving the court prematurely in this discovery dispute. However, the district court would later conclude plaintiff was under no obligation to seek an additional court order to obtain this information, and defense should have turned it over when asked for it.

Although the court ruled the plaintiff failed to prove her case for damages against the defendants, the conduct of defendants – including false representations and impeding the process of fair depositions – warranted defendants to pay certain damages.

The federal appeals court upheld this ruling, finding the award was not outlandish and plaintiff’s counsel had charged his standard rate and had not over-billed for his time.

So absent this kind of misconduct, who would have paid those attorney’s fees?

Probably no one. That’s because most personal injury cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis. What that means is that an attorney agrees to take on the plaintiff’s case with no promise of payment unless plaintiff prevails in the case. The contingency fee is typically a percentage of what the plaintiff is awarded at via settlement or verdict – but only if the outcome is in the plaintiff’s favor.

By offering injured persons a low-risk solution to filing a case, the courthouse doors are open to many who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

Most contingency fees for personal injury lawyers in North Carolina are about one-third of the total damage awards. There may be variation depending on the complexity of the case and whether there are demanding time constraints.

Although contingency fee agreements free plaintiffs from the responsibility of paying for a lawyer if they lose, these agreements often do not totally free a plaintiff from the possibility of paying certain fees. These may include fees necessary to file the case, obtain documentation or retain the services of an expert witness.

The court in the Houston case sent a clear message to defendants by ordering them to pay both the attorney’s fees and plaintiff’s costs.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Houston v. C.G. Security Services, Inc., April 25, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Med. Ctr. – Medical Malpractice or General Negligence? April 26, 2016, Asheville Injury Attorney Blog

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