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RPC 35

January 15, 1988

Contingent Fees for the Collection of "Med-Pay"

 

Opinion rules that a lawyer generally may not charge a contingent fee to collect "med-pay."

 

Inquiry:

 

May a lawyer ethically enter into a contingent fee contract to collect amounts due under provisions of a liability insurance contract which provide for the payment of the insured's medical expenses up to a certain amount without regard to fault if there is no dispute as to the validity of the medical bills?

 

Opinion:

 

Contingent fees, like all legal fees, must be reasonable. Rule 2.6(a). Generally it is considered reasonable for lawyers to charge and collect higher fees than would otherwise be permitted in cases where recovery is uncertain and the lawyer's right to be paid is actually contingent upon there being some recovery. Thus, in such situations, a lawyer is justified, within reason, in computing a fee by applying a relatively high percentage rate to any amounts recovered for the client.

 

There is generally no justification for extraordinarily high fees where there is no risk of nonpayment. In order for such contingent fees to be reasonable and therefore permissible, there must exist at the time the agreement is made some real uncertainty as to whether there will be a recovery.

 

In most situations where claims are made under the medical payments provisions of liability insurance policies, there is no significant risk that the insurance company will refuse payment. There are no questions of fault to be determined and there is seldom any dispute regarding the validity of medical expenses. The element of risk which is necessary to justify the typically elevated contingent fee is not present. Such a fee would therefore be unreasonable to the extent that it bears no relation to the cost to the attorney of providing the service or the value of the service to the client. The same analysis would apply to other types of claims with respect to which liability is clear and there is no real dispute as to the amount due the claimant, such as claims for health insurance benefits and life insurance proceeds.

 

It is not unethical for the attorney to make some reasonable charge for services rendered in regard to the collection of such claims.

 

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