Supreme Court Limits Use of Plaintiff Contingency Fee Agreements in Determining Attorney's Fees Under Offer of Settlement Statute - O.C.G.A. § 9-11-68
In Georgia Department of Corrections v. Couch, No. S13G1555 (Ga. June 16, 2014), the Court held that a trial court cannot rely exclusively on contingency fee agreements to award attorney's fee under the Offer of Settlement statute. The Court noted that a contingent fee agreement is evidence of a guidepost to a reasonable value of attorney's fees, but is not conclusive or binding. A court cannot rely exclusively on contingency fee agreement to determine attorney's fees. A court must consider hours, rate and other indication of value. Moreover, the Court found that basing the award of attorney's fees on contingency fee wrongly includes all of the attorney's fees, not just those incurred after the rejection of an offer of settlement. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-68.
This decision helpfully rebuts Plaintiff's contention that whenever a defendant rejects an offer of settlement and plaintiff recovers 125%, a plaintiff can recover the full contingency fee, not limited by the hours incurred after the rejection of the offer of settlement. This decision decreases the threat of defendants having to pay exorbitant attorney's fees based on rejections of offers of settlement made towards the end of the case.