Some Lawyers are More Expensive Than Others

I’m a huge fan of auto racing. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Southeast way before NASCAR was cool. My Dad was a preacher, and one of the deacons at his church as a wholesale car dealer. One of the local dealer’s sons was a NASCAR Winston Cup series driver, so I got to tour around with his racing team, to small tracks they don’t visit anymore. Every year in mid May NASCAR runs a special non-points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Back in the day it was called “The Winston”, and I still call it that because I’m getting old and cranky, and newfangled titles just don’t appeal to me anymore.

Several years ago, in Dale Earnhart, Jr.’s rookie season, Junior won his first Cup race here at Texas Motor Speedway (I was there), and then won the 16th running of The Winston, which had a purse of $2 million for just that one race. He’s the only driver to ever win the event as a rookie.

Unfortunately, all did not end well for everyone that night, for as some fans began crossing a pedestrian bridge on their way back to what can be described as “elaborate ritualistic tailgating ceremonies,” an 80 foot section of the 320-foot bridge collapsed and fell 17 feet onto the highway below, injuring 107 fans, 48 seriously, including the Taylor family from Virginia. Apparently, the 11 cables buried in the concrete were all corroded, at least contributing to the collapse.

The Taylors–Cindy, Marty and their son–filed suit against Charlotte Motor Speedway and the walkway’s builder, Tindall Corp. In 2003, the Taylors’ case finally went to trial–and lasted for 10 weeks. During that time, the plaintiffs lawyers racked up a total of $355,373.85 in actual expenses for food, traveling and lodging. Yes, that’s right–they actually paid $35,537.38 per week for 10 weeks. And since they won a $4+ million jury verdict, the plaintiff’s lawyers asked the court to award them an extra $355,373.85 (that’s nearly a 10 percent increase) to pay these costs.

Now I’m sure we all understand that a jury trial is stressful, and the major actors in the melodrama, the lawyers, need to be decently taken care of. But how in the world can anybody rack up those sorts of expenses? Obviously, there’s “decent” and then there’s “decadent.”

Well, to start, the plaintiffs’ lawyers were from Greenville, North Carolina, while the trial was in Charlotte, which cost $21,974.42 in travel alone. Adding significantly to the bottom line, more than $17,600 came from meals, several of which cost more than $200 at some of Charlotte’s swankiest restaurants, including:

Jan. 16, Mimosa Grill $493.92
Jan. 18, Mimosa Grill $271.11
Jan. 20, Carlo’s Italian Grill $242.28
Jan. 21, Bistro 100 $259.89
Jan. 22, Carlo’s Italian Grill $247.52
Jan. 23, Bistro 100 $216.33
Feb. 6, Bistro 100 $457.48
March 8, Mimosa Grill $288.28
March 13, Bistro 100 $212.97
March 17, Bistro 100 $454.50 (an early celebration, perhaps?)
March 20, Morton’s of Chicago $248.33

And of course these lawyers couldn’t just stay at your local Holiday Inn. They needed the best hotels in the city for their troubles and to ease their heavy burdens. Then there were private airplane costs at over $17,500, and $72,7556.81 in expert witness fees…….and on and on.

Tindall’s lawyer, who also had to travel back and forth from Greensboro and did so on less than $7,000, was “stunned” when he got the $355,000 request. And he did the only thing he could do. He fought it. The judge took the matter under advisement on a Tuesday, and issued his ruling the following Friday, May 3, 2003. The plaintiffs lawyers only got a whopping $21,475.13 of their expenses awarded, a mere 6% of what they requested. The award included some expert witness fees, and the $208.46 in filing fees. That’s…..about…..it.

Turns out these lawyers may have gambled with at least some of their own money. The plaintiff’s family will still probably have to pay at least some of the costs not awarded. After all, someone must pay for the decadence, and why should the ones who had control over incurring them have to carry this burden? Their lead attorney is on record as saying he would work out a “fair arrangement” with them, of course consider this from the lawyer who just won, probably, 40% of the Taylors’ $4 million judgment, or somewhere around $1.6 million. I guess that’s just not enough. At least both the plaintiffs and their lawyers have plenty of money to play with, but is it any wonder why Plaintiffs lawyers are often vilified by the public?

Maybe we should add to the rules of civil procedure a“mitigation of damages” requirement on the lawyers to help solve this expense problem. In the meantime, it’s just one more reason for you business owners to protect yourselves from lawsuits and all the unpredictable, tangential costs involved with them, including decadent plaintiffs lawyers.

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