In a detailed published opinion, on November 12, 2013, the Washington Court of Appeals, Div. I, found that a trial court abused its discretion in awarding in excess of $290,000 in attorney fees, including imposing a multiplier of 2.0, following a UIM trial. Finding that the award was “excessive, reward[ed] duplicative and unsuccessful work, and inappropriately applie[d] a multiplier to a standard damages case,” the Court of Appeals remanded the case for “meaningful consideration of what constitutes a reasonable fee.” In the opinion, the Court addressed key subjects in assessing the reasonableness of attorney fees in Washington such as determining the appropriate lodestar calculation and analyzing the factors for consideration of whether to impose a fee multiplier. The Court of Appeals summarized its conclusions by citing to a number of authorities and finding that (1) the trial court must enter meaningful findings and conclusions to explain the attorney fee award, (2) the trial court must undertake an independent evaluation of the reasonableness of the claimed fees and discount for unproductive time, (3) when an attorney fails to use proper billing judgment, the trial court may consider a downward adjustment of fees, and (4) an upward multiplier may occasionally be justified to account for risk, but the lodestar calculation is presumptively reasonable.
Although the opinion largely focused on the attorney fee issue, the Court of Appeals also assessed the admissibility of an accident reconstructionist’s testimony in an automobile accident case. Citing Washington Supreme Court precedent, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit the reconstructionist’s testimony at trial.
A copy of the opinion is available here: Berryman v. Farmers Ins. Co. of Wash., Wash. Ct. of App., Div. I, Case No. 68544-9-I (2013).