The Morelli Law Firm is not due an increased contingency fee award based on alleged “extraordinary circumstances” in representing a client in a medical malpractice lawsuit for 7½ years, a state appeals court has ruled.
The court said the Manhattan-based firm, led by famed civil litigator Benedict Morelli, was sufficiently compensated when it was paid $376,198.50 for 970 hours of legal services, in accordance with Judiciary Law §474-a(2), which sets out a schedule for contingent fees earned by lawyers in medical, dental or podiatric malpractice actions.
A unanimous Appellate Division, Second Department, panel ruled that, while the statute provides for higher fees based on extraordinary circumstances, Morelli had not made a “threshold showing” that the money collected by his firm was inadequate.
“The law firm expended approximately 970 hours, that included 9 days of trial, over the course of the 7½ years it represented the plaintiffs in this medical malpractice action,” wrote Justices John Leventhal, Betsy Barros, Valerie Brathwaite Nelson and Linda Christopher. “The record is devoid of any evidence that the amount of time spent on the representation of the plaintiffs resulted in an exceptionally low hourly rate of compensation, or that it caused the law firm any financial detriment.”
“Inasmuch as the law firm failed to make the threshold showing that compensation in this case was inadequate, it is not necessary to reach the issue of whether extraordinary circumstances existed,” the panel added in a terse opinion issued Nov. 1, in Siu Kiu Lam v. Nelly Loo, et al.; Morelli Law Firm, PLLC, nonparty-appellant, 20028/09.
The panel’s opinion affirmed the June 2016 decision of Kings County Supreme Court Justice Bert Bunyan, who had denied the Morelli firm’s motion under Judiciary Law § 474-a for an increased contingency fee award.
Benedict Morelli did not return multiple calls seeking comment Wednesday on the panel’s ruling and his firm’s motion for the increased payment.