GEICO v. Macedo – Insurer to Pay Attorney’s Fees After Florida Car Accident Verdict

Attorney fees in car accident and other personal injury lawsuits in Florida are based on a myriad of factors, including the degree of difficulty of the task, the amount of time needed, the amount of experience necessary and the skill of the attorney in that particular area of law. The Florida Bar Association reports overhead fees account for 30 to 50 percent of what a lawyer charges, and include things like equipment, maintenance and costs.courthouse

The good news for personal injury claimants is that:

  • Most injury lawsuits are accepted by lawyers on a contingency fee basis, which means plaintiff’s don’t pay attorney fees upfront – or at all if they lose;
  • In some cases, attorney fees may be paid by the defendant in addition to the damage award, so it won’t cut into the amount you receive. In some cases, this might be more or less than what you originally agreed to pay your lawyer. This possibility should be provided for in the initial fee arrangement.

Defendants will often fight hard to avoid paying attorney fees if they can. We saw this recently in the case of GEICO v. Macedo, in which the order for defense to pay attorney’s fees was the sole basis for an appeal before Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

According to court records, plaintiff was involved in an accident with the defendant’s insured.

Efforts by plaintiff to collect benefits from at-fault driver’s insurer (defendant) were unsuccessful, so plaintiff filed a Florida personal injury lawsuit. Prior to trial, plaintiff proposed a settlement for the policy limit of $50,000, which was pursuant to F.S. 768.79. (The statute says that if plaintiff files a demand for settlement or judgment and that offer is not accepted within 30 days and the plaintiff recovers 25 percent more than the amount of the offer, plaintiff will be awarded reasonable costs, including investigative expenses and attorneys’ fees.) Defendant rejected that offer.

The case went to trial, and plaintiff recovered four times more than the amount of the original proposal. At that point, plaintiff joined the insurer to the judgment and sought collection for attorney fees.

The trial court awarded plaintiff attorney’s fees, in addition to the judgment.

The insurer appealed, arguing that it should not be liable to pay for these additional damages.

However, the 1st DCA affirmed that judgment, citing the 2015 case of New Hampshire Indemnity Company v. Gray. In that case, the appeals court found the insurance company policy provision indicating it would cover “other reasonable expenses” included the cost that were associated with choosing to take a case to trial rather than settling it. Here, as in Gray, the insurer indemnified its client in the court case, and thus solely had the right to litigate and settle the claims and was therefore obligated contractually to pay for all investigative and legal costs.

There was nothing in the policy that excluded costs and fees awarded to plaintiff driver pursuant to F.S. 768.79. When the insurer chose not to settle the claim, the plaintiff incurred costs associated with the ensuing litigation, and she had a right by law to recover those expenses.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

GEICO v. Macedo, May 6, 2016, Florida 1st DCA

More Blog Entries:

1st DCA Tosses Florida Workers’ Comp Attorney Caps, May 7, 2016, West Palm Beach Car Accident Attorney Blog