A WCJ did not err in resolving a dispute between two attorneys over a fee related to a compromise and release (C&R) agreement, the Commonwealth Court ruled in Bierman v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Philadelphia National Bank), __ A.3d __ (No. 1336 CD 2014, filed April 1, 2015). Attorney Larry Pitt began receiving 20% of Claimant’s disability payments in 1989 pursuant to a fee agreement approved by a WCJ. In April 2012, Pitt began settlement negotiations with the insurance carrier. When negotiations were unsuccessful, Claimant terminated Pitt’s representation and retained Attorney Richard Cullen. A dispute arose between Cullen and Pitt over who was entitled to the 20% fee going forward; Cullen filed a review petition. During the pendency of the review petition proceedings, Cullen negotiated a C&R agreement. The WCJ awarded Pitt a 20% fee up to the date of the C&R agreement, and awarded Cullen the entire 20% fee from the settlement amount. Pitt appealed, arguing that he was entitled to 20% of the amount of the settlement offer he negotiated and which Claimant rejected. The Board affirmed the WCJ’s award.
In affirming the Board, the Commonwealth Court held that “the WCJ adequately balanced Claimant’s right to select an attorney of her choice with both attorneys’ expectations of receiving reasonable legal fees.” Writing for the unanimous panel, Judge Cohn Jubelirer explained that Cullen was entitled to the entire fee from the settlement because no settlement offer was on the table when Cullen began representing Claimant and he alone negotiated the C&R agreement. As for Pitt, the Court acknowledged that it was his efforts in the late 1980’s that ultimately set the stage for the C&R agreement; thus, along with the compensation he already received for his past services, it was reasonable to award Pitt 20% of Claimant’s weekly benefits for an additional seven months after he was discharged.