36-2-2923 Feliciano v. Faldettaf, App. Div. (Waugh, J.A.D.) (9 pp.)
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Case review submitted by New Jersey civil lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In this Appellate Division case the court was asked to decide if the plaintiff’s attorney is entitled to his hourly rate request on a contingent fee case once the condition precedents of the Offer of Judgement Rule are satisfied. In the MVA case the plaintiff’s filed an Offer of Judgment of $15,000.00 which was not accepted by defense counsel. After a jury verdict of $50,000.00 plaintiff’s counsel moved for an award of attorney’s fees for the time and costs associated with the post filing efforts.
The trial court awarded in excess of $60,000.00 in fees costs and interest. The Appellate Division ruled plaintiff’s counsel was entitled to the hourly rate computation under Rendine because the Offer of Judgment court rule authorizes same.
The court ruled the intent of the Offer of Judgment Rule, 4:58 is designed to promote early settlement of claims early on. Defendant’s failure to accept the offer exposed him to the assessment of fees and costs above plaintiff’s initial contingent fee agreement. Finally, any agreement or disagreement between plaintiff’s counsel and the plaintiff could be addressed by a fee arbitration procedure. The key is to know the Rules of Court and use them to your advantage when ever available!!!