The Georgia Court of Appeals recently approved the award of attorneys’ fees in a case that was appealed from DeKalb County Superior Court. In Roofers Edge Inc. v. Standard Building Co. Inc. A08A1060; A08A2109 (11/17/09), the appellate court found that there was “some evidence” for the jury to conclude that the defendant acted in bad faith and to award attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff. In this case, the defendant, Standard Building Co., Inc., failed to pay the plaintiff, Roofers Edge, Inc. for subcontracted metal roofing work on a construction project; then denied the existence of a contract or that Roofers Edge had completed the work. It did, however, admit at trial that Roofers Edge was entitled to payment, less a setoff.
At first blush, this case appears to have little to do with personal injury litigation. However, this case is applicable to all litigation in Georgia state courts including auto accidents, slip and fall injuries, premises liablity and any other type of personal injury claim brought in Georgia. This case explains the circumstances under which a plaintiff may be awarded attorneys’ fees, in addition to other monetary damages which they may be entitled to.
As the court notes in its decision, Georgia state code OCGA 13-6-11 provides for the award of attorneys’ fees to a plaintiff when a defendant “has acted in bad faith, has been stubbornly litigious, or has caused the plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense. A refusal to pay in bad faith means a frivolous and unfounded denial of liability. Similarly, “stubborn litigiousness,” and “causing the plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense” refer to a defendant’s forcing the plaintiff to sue when no bona fide controversy exists.” Many Georgia lawyers and judges refer to this as the “so sue me” attitude. Importantly, this issue (whether or not the defendant acted in bad faith, etc.) is an issue for the jury to decide. In other words, the jury decides whether the plaintiff is awarded his or her attorneys’ fees and expenses of litigation in addition to the other damages that the plaintiff is seeking in the lawsuit.
Many Georgia lawyers mistakenly advise their clients that they cannot recover attorneys’ fees in personal injury cases. Not only is this bad advice, it is not true. We routinely keep track of all of our time on every case. This is true, even if the case is being handled on a contingency fee basis (i.e., our firm gets no fee unless we recover money for our client. This is how we prefer to handle most personal injury cases.). The reason is simple, we try to recover attorneys’ fees on all types of cases, including personal injury cases such as automobile accidents, trip and falls, and many others.
I recently tried a relatively minor traffic accident case in DeKalb County, Georgia that illustrates my point. The accident was a minor one and the plaintiff was awarded $8,000 for her medical bills and pain and suffering. More importantly though, the jury saw through the defendant’s stalling and bad faith tactics and awarded about $12,000 in attorneys’ fees.They did this mostly based on testimony from the defendant’s own mouth (elicited by me under cross examination) that: (1) he caused the wreck; (2) the Plaintiff had incurred medical bills because of the wreck; (3) he (the Defendant) was very sorry for causing the wreck; (4) but he refused to pay the Plaintiff for her damages.
Insurance companies and large corporations routinely stall the litigation process and deny liability, even in cases where the defendant’s culpability and negligence is clear. Robert J. Fleming excels under these circumstances because we are able to “turn the tables” on the defendants that use these antics. Once this is done, it exposes the defendants’ true intentions to the jury and enables the plaintiff to recover higher amounts of damages, including in some cases, attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation.
For a complete copy of the Roofers Edge opinion, click here