Judge awards attorneys' fees, tinkers with costs in Spearman case

Amelia Flood Jul. 17, 2009, 7:55am

At the end of a hearing over disputed attorneys fees and costs in a 2002 personal injury suit, Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth said he was sure most of those gathered weren't happy.

"I understand you're not happy with your verdict," Ruth told plaintiff Walter Spearman. "The defense isn't happy either."

Spearman's attorney, Rodney Caffey of LakinChapman in Wood River, expressed his displeasure as well when Ruth knocked a little under $2,000 off his requested $13,800 in litigation costs.

Friday's hearing pitted Spearman against his attorneys over about $41,000 in legal fees and two attorneys' advance litigation costs -- $8,132 for Alton attorney J. Robert Edmonds and just under $14,000 for Wood River attorney Rodney Caffey.

LakinChapman had agreed to pay Edmonds' firm out of the $41,000 for their work on Spearman's case.

Spearman argued that Caffey's request for the $41,000 was exorbitant and that his work didn't merit that amount.

Ruth presided over the second trial of Spearman's personal injury suit against defendant Michael Sunley. The second trial was only on damages.

In the original trial, the jury found Sunley had rear-ended Spearman in December 2002 and that the accident caused the herniated discs in Spearman's neck that required surgery.

However, the original jury only awarded Spearman about $62,000 for his past medical bills, making no other provisions. Spearman appealed the original verdict and the appellate court remanded it back to Madison County for a new trial on damages.

The second trial concluded in May 2009. The second jury awarded spearman just under $125,000.

Spearman's attorney in the second trial, Rodney Caffey of LakinChapman LLC of Wood River, has asked the court for about $41,000 in attorneys' fees and $13,000 in advance litigation costs for the two-day May trial.

Spearman filed a motion opposing Caffey's request July 14, arguing that Caffey was seeking more money than he was entitled to for the damages only trial. Spearman argued that since Ruth directed the second jury to render the $62,000 for past medical bills, Caffey's fees should have come out of the added $62,000 in damages for pain, future medical bills and disfigurement.

Ruth explained to Spearman, when he ruled awarding Caffey the $41,000 in fees, that the $62,000 he directed the jury to render for the medical bills came as a result of a pre-trial motion "vehemently opposed" by defense counsel Steven Mudge.

Ruth told Spearman that, while he understood he might have been disappointed by the final verdict, it had come as a result of the attorneys efforts in both trials and he was awarding the fees.

Ruth did side with some of Spearman's arguments regarding the Lakin firm's roughly $14,000 in litigation costs. Those costs included a $3,000 appearance at trial by the surgeon who operated on Spearman and $1,000 an hour for his time during the trial. The Lakin firm also paid one of its investigators to drive the doctor to and from the Madison County Courthouse at $55 an hour.

Ruth knocked about $2,000 off the costs, excluding the driver's time and the costs Lakin charged Spearman for some research.

Caffey expressed his displeasure at the cuts and cited work his firm has done for Spearman since it informed him of their costs June 19 that they have not charged him for.

Spearman did not oppose Edmonds' move for costs.

At the hearing Friday, Spearman of Edwardsville represented himself.

The case is Madison case number 04-L-007.

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