After a multimillion-dollar verdict, attorneys get fee award, too

To add (just) insult to (just) injury, a Florida judge awarded $518,301 to Angela Williams’s attorneys (PDF link). Ms. Williams recently won almost $3 million in a lawsuit against Equifax for Equifax’s refusal to fix her credit report after her identity was stolen.

While it may not be obvious when a consumer receives such a high verdict, without attorney fee awards, most attorneys would not be able to bring lawsuits against credit reporting bureaus like Equifax, unscrupulous debt collectors, mortgage fraudsters, and other consumer predators. As the 11th Circuit said over two decades ago, “[t]he award of attorney fees, as a practical matter, is a critical and integral part of [the creation of a system of private attorneys general.]”

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  1. timmus says:

    Those country club fees and Escalade payments must be a killer.

  2. Buran says:

    @timmus: Well, they did do the work of preparing the lawsuit (though I don’t know if the amount is really justified, not being familiar with what was done, and not knowing any attorneys well enough to just ask).

    In cases like this where the defendant is at fault, I only think it fair they have to pay the bill. They could have avoided paying, after all, if they had done what they should have done and fixed the report and not spread lies.

  3. BigElectricCat says:

    Good for Ms. Williams, and good for her attorneys.

    If EQ was so recalcitrant, then they deserve the $3.5M hit.

  4. thefertileoctogenarian says:

    yeah and what would Williams pay if she lost?

    Nothing. The attorneys, who had spent all their time working on this and passing up other work would not get paid one cent.

    Williams either had to pay them part of her award if she won or nothing if she lost. Not a bad deal.

    Maybe you guys should understand that the compensation structure has a component of risk for attorneys that they might not get paid.

  5. b612markt says:

    I’m always thrilled to see companies like Equifax, RIAA, Ticketmaster get hit with big amounts. it makes me happy.

  6. howie_in_az says:

    @b612markt: Yeah but now us mere mortals will have to pay $10 more every time we want to see our credit report (outside of the once-per-year freebie).

  7. asuteke says:

    @Buran: I work at a law firm. Generally they charge a fair price, though there is always bill padding going on. General rule of thumb is the more you pay the better the service. I.e. if you want college educated paralegals who know what they are doing and lawyers who went to a top tier school, pay more.

  8. thefertileoctogenarian says:

    to howie_in_az

    the prices that the credit morons can charge has a maximum fixed by law. they’ll probably just take it out on us by being even less efficient.

  9. Pro-Pain says:

    @ b612markt – I couldn’t agree with you more!

  10. XopherMV says:

    Attorneys often take on these cases on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if they win. So, their winning cases have to pay for all the cases in which they lose. On top of that, multiple people work on these cases, it can take years for a case to actually go to trial, appeals further delay payment, and that they could lose at any time. Despite all of that, they still have to pay their bills.

  11. kelptocratic says:

    Litigation is very, very expensive.

  12. Sam Glover says:

    @asuteke: I am not sure what firm you work at, but padding is unethical, and there is not “always” bill padding.

  13. Buckus says:

    In cases where the defendant plans to appeal, I think they should be forced to place the amount of the original judgement into an escrow account until appeals are exhausted. That way they can’t just go out of business or file bankruptcy. And it’s an immediate hit to their pocketbook. If they don’t cough up the money within a certain time, say 5 business days, they get held in contempt of court.

    Just sayin…

  14. Buckus says:

    Every time they bill you and send you the bill through the mail, that’s mail fraud.

    Anyone seen “The Firm”

  15. Trai_Dep says:

    Hey, so long as it punishes unresponsive companies that do wrong, juries can give millions to al Quada for all I care. So long as the evil-doers suffer.

  16. StevieD says:

    @kelptocratic:

    Yep.

    A lawyer costs money.

    A good lawyer costs “good” money.

    Even in small town America it is possible to spend $1000 per hour for a specialist.

  17. Thorny says:

    If attorneys did not get 33% of verdicts, I highly doubt we’d have most of the lawsuits we have now.

    There should be a maximum award allowed to plaintiffs, and the rest should go towards paying off our national debt or funding education, or something like that. There’s no reason that someone with a screwed up credit history should get $3 million dollars.

  18. bhelverson says:

    Buckus said In cases where the defendant plans to appeal, I think they should be forced to place the amount of the original judgement into an escrow account until appeals are exhausted.

    Actually, that is the general rule. The winner an petition the Court to require a monetary appeal bond. This, of course, prevents someone from filing an appeal just to delay paying a judgment.

  19. loueloui says:

    @Buran:

    Generally, I would agree. However working on a contingency creates an extra incentive for an attorney to settle out of court, or not take a case which would involve a small judgement. I know 2 attorneys personally, and from what I’ve heard some of the more seedier ones will only take cases which they know will be settled out of court quickly, and with little effort.

    That’s not to say I am against any professional being paid for their hard work. But when you come across class action suits where the legal fees are a significant percentage of the award. It’s easy to see where this can get out of hand. Maybe a reasonable cap on the amount would make sense.

  20. alice_bunnie says:

    In this case, good. And, good that it’s not coming out of her judgment. It’s the big class action judgments that really chap my ass, when they get millions of dollars and I get a coupon for 10% off a future purchase.

  21. ironchef says:

    @Thorny:

    some attorneys actual go as high as 50%…not 33% when you factor their “expenses” in.

    33% is just a FEE.
    All that paralegals, filings, travel, etc. is tacked ON TOP of the 33%.

  22. RandomHookup says:

    Thank goodness they got that extra $1. Wouldn’t have been worth the time otherwise.

  23. mac-phisto says:

    @Thorny: sounds like a plan to me!

    of course, we’ll have to relieve businesses of those pesky profits too & apply that to the national debt or education or something.

    @the corporate shills in the room: 1) NONE of us are customers of the credit bureaus – even when you “buy” a report. their customers are the companies that report tradelines. so if anyone ends up paying more, it will be the companies that report. 2) it’s judgments such as this one that give you the rights you have today. we take for granted that we get yearly free credit reports & that bureaus/businesses must work with us in cases of ID theft – these consumer rights have their basis in litigation. 30 years ago, you didn’t even have a right to the information that was reported about you. 20 years ago, you had to pay to get it & you had no right to your score. finally, FINALLY, we are chipping away the immunity that CRBs formerly had (& even still have under FCRA & FACTA legislation).

  24. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    While we’re limiting how much plaintiffs get, why not limit the attorney fees as well. This is a self-propagating problem, as the actual ‘laws’ tend to be written by (and for) lawyers.

    It’s those scummy 99% of lawyers that give the other 1% a bad image.

  25. Me - now with more humidity says:

    Waaa! Someone else is making money and I’m not!!!! Make the nasty attorneys give it to me!!!!!

    What a bunch of socialist BS.

  26. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @Me: Why not make the lawyers earn an honest living like the rest of us?