METTS V. PARKINSON | RECOVERY OF ATTORNEYS FEES UNDER 6-21-1
In Metts v. Parkinson the Court of Appeals (on 4/1/2014; unpublished) addressed whether the trial court can award the plaintiff legal fees under 6-21.1 in the amount of one-third of the jury's award. In this case, the Plaintiff recovered a verdict of approximately $6,000 against the defendant, in a case for personal injuries.
He incurred 100 hours in prosecuting the case. He sought an award of legal fees under N.C. General Statute 6-21.1, based on the time in the case at $225 per hour (which would be more than $20,000). The trial court instead awarded only approximately $2,000, on the basis that this was one-third of the verdict, which is a customary recovery for a plaintiff's attorney. (There were also other findings, such as that the insurance company had offered $5,500 at mediation, and the plaintiff was demanding $35,000.) The Court of Appeals affirmed the award, finding that whether to award attorneys fees is within the discretion of the trial court.
This case was decided prior to the current version of 6-21.1, which now requires additional findings to award legal fees. This case is somewhat troubling because the plaintiff in this type of case has no real incentive to pursue this type of case if his or her legal fees will be limited to one-third of the recovery. The net result may be that plaintiff's attorneys cannot accept such cases, and persons injured in e.g. motor vehicle collisions cannot find legal representation.
John Kirby has handled hundreds of personal injury cases in North Carolina, and has handled many cases addressing the application of 6-21.1, and has litigated this statute to the Court of Appeals.