Complex wrongful-death legal fee appeal puzzles judges

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Judges on a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals were stumped at times Friday in a case regarding legal fees due from the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund to the estate of a woman who won a wrongful death judgment after she died from burns at a care facility.

“You’ve basically just lost me,” Judge Melissa May said at one point to attorney Dan Robinson, who sought to explain why the estate should receive $50,440 in attorney fees from the PCF as was ordered by a Marion Superior judge. Robinson, a member of Gray Robinson Ryan & Fox P.C. in Indianapolis, represents the adult children of the estate of Mable Cochran in Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund v. Judy Holcomb, 49A05-1207-CC-340. Watch the oral argument here.

Susan Cline, a Lewis Wagner LLP partner representing the Patient’s Compensation Fund, argued that legal fees awarded from the fund are clearly capped at 15 percent of total damages under I.C. 34-18-18-1.
“The Patient Compensation Fund asks that this case be remanded back to the trial court,” Cline said, with an order for damages for legal fees reduced to $17,852.

Beyond the $250,000 policy coverage limit, the estate also was entitled to $101,166.89 from the PCF based on provisions of a settlement, which the fund paid. Attorneys took a fee of 40 percent from that amount, pursuant to their contract with the client, according to testimony. Robinson told the judges the legal fees of $50,440 from the fund would go directly to the estate.

Judge Rudy Pyle III and Chief Judge Margret Robb also appeared to wrestle with the conflicting formulas for legal fee awards from the fund and whether the 15 percent cap should apply. Cline acknowledged that a formula proposed for awarding legal fees from the fund wasn’t found in statutes, but represented an attempt to reconcile recent caselaw with statutes.

But Robinson and Johnson Jensen LLP attorney Robert W. Johnson, representing the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, argued that the award was justified under the adult wrongful death statute, I.C. 34-23-1-2. The fee would have been subject to the 15 percent cap under medical malpractice statutes, he said.

“Attorney fees as damages are totally different from what the attorney charges his client,” Johnson said. He noted estates are afforded protections from excessive legal fees through probate court.

But Cline warned that allowing the lower court award of legal fees to stand could create unforeseen hardships for the fund. “You create the windfall with no place to go.”

Struggling to find the heart of the case, Robb seemed to reach an epiphany at one point in the oral arguments that ran about 20 minutes longer than the time typically granted. She quipped, “It’s clear as mud, now.”


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.