Car accidents raise many questions about medical care, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering and even attorney fees. Because you have so many concerns after a Carolina car accident, it is important to have the advice and guidance of an experienced Carolina injury attorney.
Recently, an Idaho court made a very telling decision regarding requests for attorney’s fees in personal injury cases. Bennett v. Patrick is a case that arose from a car accident. Matthew Bennett was driving a vehicle with Benjamin Walton (collectively “plaintiffs”) in the passenger seat. Nancy Patrick (defendant) was driving negligently and struck the Bennett vehicle. Plaintiffs suffered minor injuries and property damage. The defendant admitted to liability for the accident. She was insured with Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate).
Plaintiff’s hired counsel and after obtaining all of the relevant supporting documents, plaintiff’s counsel sent Allstate a demand letter for damages. This initial demand letter asked for damages to be paid to Bennett in the amount of $20,000 and to Walton in the amount of $23,000. Allstate did not respond favorably to this demand letter, and counter-offered for $2,300 and $4,600 respectively. Plaintiff’s would not accept this offer and entered this claim for damages.
When the case came to the court, a jury was charged with hearing the facts of the case and determining how much the plaintiffs were entitled to in damages. The defendant admitted to liability for the injury and asked the jury to compensate the plaintiffs reasonably. Once the evidence of medical costs and property damage were presented, the jury awarded Patrick $5,000 and Walton $10,000.
Because this award was lower than the plaintiff’s expected, they petitioned the court to award attorney’s fees to cover the amount they would have to pay their attorney. The plaintiffs relied on this specific state’s statute that allows for the prevailing party in a personal injury lawsuit to be awarded attorney fees where the lawsuit was for less than $25,000.
This question of whether the plaintiffs were entitled to attorney’s fees was first heard by the district court. This district court found that in cases where the plaintiff’s request for damages in their complaint is more than $25,000, plaintiffs waive their right to seek attorney’s fees where the actual award is less than $25,000. The plaintiff’s appealed this court decision leading them to the state Supreme Court on the question of attorney’s fees.
The state Supreme Court found that the district court had erred in its interpretation of the relevant state statute. Because the district court had added the amount each of the plaintiff’s had asked for in their complaint, the amount being considered by the court was in excess of the statutorily designated $25,000. However, this Supreme Court found that the law applies to the plaintiffs because each of the plaintiffs claim for damages in the complaint should be considered separately, and the sums should not be added for procedural statutory application.
Therefore, this court found that because each of the plaintiffs asked for less than $25,000, they each were entitled to the application of this statute to their personal injury case; thus, allowing for them each to collect the costs of attorney’s fees.