4th DCA (Melanie Bell)
An attempt by a West Palm Beach law firm to collect fees in the case of a young man who was severely injured by a Broward sheriff’s deputy has been rejected on appeal.
Nine years after a Broward Circuit Court jury awarded Eric Brody $31 million and six years after the trial court entered final judgment, attorneys with Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley sought to reopen the case to have the trial court consider a charging lien.
Searcy Denney partners Christian Searcy and Jack Scarola are the parties attempting to reopen the case, which settled for $10.75 million.
The Brody family objected to that move, but Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy III allowed it. The family appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Brody was a high school senior in 1998 driving to a part-time job when his car was T-boned by a sheriff’s deputy doing 70 mph in a 45 mph zone. He was left permanently brain-damaged and disabled.
The award was reduced in a settlement to a little over a third of the original amount.
In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott signed a claims bill approving payment for Brody’s care, living expenses and vocational training.
The claims bills were hotly contested and died in several sessions.
Lance Block, who has no direct role in the appeal, is a Tallahassee attorney formerly with Searcy Denney who represented the Brodys at trial. He had no comment on the decision.
Block represented the family on its collections efforts. Block told the Miami Herald in 2012 that he agreed with lawmakers’ objections to paying settlement fees, including $1 million that Searcy Denney paid a lobbyist to work on Brody’s behalf.
“I’d rather save Eric the $1 million,” Block told the Herald. “I can walk, I can talk, I can get up and work every day—and Eric can’t. I’d rather see him get the $1 million than it go to some West Palm Beach law firm that didn’t do any work on the case.”
In the unsigned opinion Wednesday, Judges Carole Taylor, Melanie May and Burton Conner noted the charging lien was filed more than two years after jurisdiction of the case ended with final judgment, “and there was no reservation of jurisdiction in that judgment to entertain fees.”
The court acknowledged equitable circumstances existed that warranted jurisdiction and said Searcy Denney already has as adequate avenue to seek relief.
“The firm has already commenced a separate, new action against the clients, the clients’ attorney—formerly a member of the firm—and others in which it alleges counts to impress a lien,” the panel wrote.
Searcy Denney filed suit in October 2012 against Brody; his parents, Charles and Sharon Brody; and Block, a claims bill specialist, according to Broward court records.
Daniel Rosenthal and David Spector at Akerman in West Palm Beach represented the Brodys. J. Michael Burman of Reid Burman in West Palm Beach handled the appeal for Searcy Denney. The attorneys had no comment by deadline.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office is listed as the respondent on the court opinion but is not involved in latest litigation.