A Plano woman sued Houston personal injury lawyer Howard Nations and his firm, alleging they shorted her on money from her settlement in vaginal mesh litigation and involved another firm without her permission.
Sharyn Joy Teitelbaum alleges in a petition filed Wednesday in state district court in Houston that Nations Law Firm made a “secret arrangement” with South Carolina firm Motley Rice to attempt to settle her lawsuit, without informing her in advance. She also alleges that certain deductions from her settlement were unexpected.
“The deductions included deductions for certain fees and expenses that plaintiff had not agreed to pay, including both unexplained expenses and attorneys’ fees that included money for Motley Rice,” Teitelbaum alleges in the petition.
Nations did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on the allegations.
Motley Rice, which is not a defendant to Teitelbaum’s claims, has settled thousands of transvaginal mesh suits, both for individuals and as settlement counsel working with other firms in multidistrict litigation. The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cris Feldman, a partner in Feldman & Feldman in Houston who represents Teitelbaum, declined comment on the case.
Teitelbaum brings breach of fiduciary duty and professional negligence causes of action against Nations and his firm, and seeks up to $1 million in damages including actual damages, punitives and fee forfeiture.
As alleged in Teitelbaum v. Nations, Teitelbaum entered into a contract with Nations Law Firm on Oct. 13, 2014, to prosecute all claims arising from medical problems she suffered after receiving a pelvic mesh implant in 2009.
She alleges the contract provided for a 40 percent contingency fee, and of that amount 40 percent would go to Nations Law Firm and 60 percent to Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, a personal injury firm in Pensacola, Florida. However, after she signed the contract, Teitelbaum alleges, Levin Papantonio notified her that it could not represent her in the litigation, and Nations Law Firm said it would continue to represent her.
“NLF [Nations Law Firm] did not seek or obtain plaintiff’s consent to receive any fee other than the 40 percent of the original 40 percent provided for in the attorney-client contract—or a total of 16 percent of any amount collected, as provided in the contract,” she alleges in the petition.
Teitelbaum claims that without her knowing, Nations Law Firm made a “secret arrangement” with Motley Rice to “lump plaintiff’s case together with 749 other cases to attempt to negotiate a settlement on behalf of plaintiff and other unidentified clients.”
She alleges the Nations firm did not inform her about its “dealings with Motley Rice.” Only when the firm forwarded her portions of a settlement agreement, in March 2017, did she learn of Motley Rice’s involvement, her petition said.
When she asked the firm who Motley Rice was, “a legal assistant vaguely responded that ‘There were multiple firms involved in this settlement, and for ease of administration, it goes through one firm (Motley Rice),’” the petition said.
Teitelbaum alleges Nations Law Firm never asked or received her permission to have Motley Rice represent her.
She alleges Nations Law Firm refused to give her the opportunity to review all of the settlement documents, but she “acquiesced” to the firm’s “advice and coercion” and signed the settlement agreement.
“When NLF sent plaintiff a settlement check, it was for less than the settlement amount shown in the documents that she had reviewed,” the plaintiff alleges, adding that the settlement disbursement sheet included attorney fees for Motley Rice, an MDL fee assessment and case-specific and general expenses.
“NLF had never before told plaintiff that she would have to pay such expenses, and she did not agree to do so,” she alleges.
Still, Teitelbaum alleges, Nations Law Firm has not fully complied with her request to provide her with a complete copy of the settlement documents and communications it had with Motley Rice about her lawsuit.
The petition alleges that Nations Law Firm breached its duty to Teitelbaum by agreeing to divide fees and then dividing them with Motley Rice without her knowledge or consent; negotiating a global settlement without her informed consent and taking more than the 40 percent of the fees that the contract stated for attorney fees; and deducting “improper expenses” and attorney fees from her settlement money.
Teitelbaum has also accused the defendants of violating several Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.