Robert L. Alpert

  Catastrophic Accident Victim Fees and Compensation

"…Surely, no one in our profession would challenge the proposition that the first duty of a lawyer having a discussion with a client - - or a potential client - - whether there was solicitation or not, would be the obligation to advise the client with respect to the certainty of liability. In many multiple disaster cases, the only real dispute is likely to be over the extent of the damages. Does such a case justify a contingent fee?"

Remarks of Warren E. Burger
Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court
at the
Dedication of The American Bar Center
Chicago, IL, August 5, 1984

" 'Gouging in DC - 10 case

Some plaintiffs' lawyers in the O'Hare DC - 10 crash case are charging contingent fees that no knowledgeable lawyer would call reasonable, according to Senior U. S. District Court Judge Hubert L. Will. Will said that he and Judge Edwin A. Robson, who are jointly hearing cases, do not intend to 'stand by and watch lawyers gouge clients and do nothing about it'

… ' I see lawyers back there shaking their heads on the theory that, to hell with you, whatever agreement I make is what I make, and if I want to give my client a good shafting, it's okay with them, and there's nothing you can do about it. I'll tell you right now that if we see anybody giving a client a good shafting, we'll figure out something to do about it, and you can shake your head all you like, but you do not have a license to steal because you are admitted to the practice of law, nor do you have a license to gouge because you are admitted to the practice of law' …"

The Chicago Lawyer
January, 1981

Accident Victim Assistance Experience

ICALM Group's principals have met with more aviation accident injured passengers, their families and the relatives of passengers who did not survive these accidents than any law firm or insurance entity in the world. Although we have primarily represented air carriers after domestic and international aviation accidents, we took the time to meet with those whose needs were the greatest at a time when they were experiencing deep despair and confusion.

It was in September, 1974, after an accident in North Carolina involving an Eastern Airlines' aircraft, that we began recommending to the airlines and their insurers that more attention should be paid to the needs and emotional well being of the accident victims and their families. We implemented a process during which every family was offered at its convenience a personal visit during which (1) they could receive answers to important and pertinent questions, and (2) learn about the financial assistance that was available for them. While a great deal of progress has been made in the last twenty-five years, much more needs to be accomplished. One prominent plaintiff's aviation attorney has credited Bob Alpert's efforts to directly contact accident victims and their families with substantially reducing the fees paid by victims and their families to their lawyers. ICALM's principals encouraged and implemented major changes involving post-accident financial, medical and emotional assistance to accident victims and their families without the need for incurring substantial lawyer's fees and having to sign complicated legal documentation.

The referred to process ultimately permitted the families to receive more net compensation sooner. A Rand Corporation study published in 1988 concluded that these procedures made the aviation reparation system the most efficient of any tort compensation system at that time. Refusing to accept that direct financial assistance to these accident victims and their families was the most productive development in accident compensation in over twenty years, certain opponents (most of whom were plaintiffs' lawyers whose large fees were being threatened) advised their clients not to accept the payment of medical and hospital bills, funeral invoices, lost wages and incidental expenses on the grounds that to do so would somehow diminish their ultimate recovery against the responsible parties. In actuality, early acceptance of these financial offers only diminished the size of the fees paid by the victims and their families to their lawyers.

We here at ICALM continue to encourage airlines and aviation insurers to provide more expeditious and less restrictive financial assistance, and early settlement offers, to accident victims and their families. Tragically, recent events suggest that the progress made in the last twenty-five years may be reversing. In 1998, one large aviation insurer settled a wrongful death claim by a family for the death of their son arising out of a 1991 accident for 1000% more than the original offer, and only after the family retained one of ICALM's principals (1) to assist them in finding an attorney, and (2) to direct the course of the litigation. Another large aviation insurer has failed to make any significant settlement offers after a major domestic aviation accident even though three years have passed since the accident.

If you do not have the right representative, knowledgeable in all aspects of the way the system works, working for you at a reasonable fee, you may end up receiving very little, if any, immediate financial assistance, and ultimately net compensation to you and your family which is substantially less than you should have received. In aviation and other catastrophe litigation, a larger fee does not mean a better lawyer!

ICALM offers consulting services to aviation accident victims, and the families of passengers who do not survive, either on an hourly basis (which only a very few plaintiff's lawyers will do), or for a fee which will be taken from the fee savings that ICALM will negotiate on your behalf with the lawyer that you will ultimately select to prosecute your claim. Typically, plaintiffs' lawyers will ask for anywhere from 20% to 50% of your ultimate recovery, plus expenses. Charging you and your family such a large percentage of your recovery in most aviation cases is outrageous, as evidenced by the news article appearing at the beginning of this page. Almost all aviation insureds have substantial insurance coverage or assets. There is rarely any issue of the liability of the operator, the manufacturer of the aircraft or a component part, or the United States government for negligent air traffic control services. In the majority of instances, for an attorney to suggest to a prospective client that there is a major contingency in these cases allegedly justifying a large contingency fee is simply misleading. The only contingency is how much the compensation will be and when it will be received.

We know who the competent attorneys are and who gets the best results in a courtroom in a particular jurisdiction. A lawyer from one jurisdiction does not always present well to a jury in another state. The family attorney that has represented you for years, but who has no aviation experience, may seek to have you sign a contingency fee agreement for 30-40% of the recovery, and then share the fee with another "professional aviation attorney." What the family attorney should be doing is taking your case on an hourly basis, or for a small percentage, to find you the right lawyer at a reasonable fee for the work that needs to be done. Unfortunately, in the real world, it rarely happens that way. Many lawyers will promise you that they will recover much more than is realistically feasible in an effort to get you to sign that large contingency fee agreement. We at ICALM can assist you in navigating through that environment at a time when you most need reliable advice and experienced assistance.

While we have legal degrees and are admitted to practice law in the state of New York (and, as an individual, Mr. Alpert has been admitted to practice pro hac vice in several federal district courts throughout the United States in major aviation accident cases during the last thirty years), we do not believe that we should represent you as lawyers in actually prosecuting your case in a particular jurisdiction. Hence, we are unlike many lawyers who won't let their egos admit that they should have local counsel familiar with local juries trying the case, if necessary, to obtain the best result. We do believe that we can materially assist you in presenting your claim to the appropriate insurers at an early time in an effort to obtain for your family the proper settlement, or an appropriate cash advance, undiminished by large contingency fees and expenses that are likely to exceed twenty percent (20%) of your recovery. If a settlement acceptable to you is not achieved, then we will help you find the right lawyer, in the right jurisdiction, at a fair fee in order to maximize the net recovery that your family will rely on for its primary source of financial support for many years to come. We have retained lawyers for large corporations and individual clients in almost every major city in the United States, and we can readily identify who is the best in a particular jurisdiction --- at no additional cost to you. If we can't get you a better lawyer at a better fee, we won't charge you for our time!

Throughout the negotiated settlement or litigation process we will be available to consult with you on every aspect of your claim, and to advise you on how past experience has proven to us that you can maximize your net recovery. Our hourly fee, or small percentage fee, either of which will be received from the settlement or the negotiated savings with the trial lawyer we will assist you to retain, does not have to be paid until your case is concluded. We know all the lawyers for the experienced plaintiffs' and defense teams, we have been in most of the federal district courts in the United States where these cases are litigated and we know the claims personnel who work for the insurers that insure these risks. Our extensive knowledge can be put to work for you in the beginning in order that your net recovery can be maximized. Be patient, carefully consider your options and don't sign any contingency fee contract until you have talked to ICALM.

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