A Philadelphia attorney says that an insurance company and one of his clients conspired to
deny the payment of more than $240,000 in contingency fees for 12 years, according to a suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Bruce Neff, of Neff and Associates in Philadelphia, seeks damages in excess of $150,000 from UNUM Provident Coporation, UNUM Life Insurance and his client, Satya Bandhu Arya, of Wilmington, Del., on seven counts including civil conspiracy, violations of the Racketeering, Influencing and Corrupt Organizations Act, fraud and intentional interference with contractual relations.
According to the complaint, Neff represented Arya in 2001, when UNUM decided it would stop making disability payments to Arya. After investigating the claim, Neff prepared a civil complaint for Arya and filed it at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in October 2002.
UNUM and its legal team received notification of the complaint within days of its filing, the suit says. According to the court documents, at the end of October 2002, Arya was contacted by a UNUM representative and told if he withdrew the lawsuit, UNUM would resume the disability payments. Arya sent Neff a letter instructing him to withdraw the complaint, but never informed his lawyer that the disability payments would continue.
When he withdrew the suit, Neff asked a legal representative from UNUM if the insurance company was going to make payments. The defendants' attorney claimed he had no knowledge of UNUM's plans to resume Arya's benefits.
Twelve years later, Arya contacted Neff in September 2014 and asked for representation against UNUM concerning the amount of payments he was receiving. The phone call was the first indicator Neff received that his client had been receiving benefits from UNUM.
The arrangement between UNUM and Arya circumvented the contractual relationship Neff had with his client, the complaint says, and prevented the plaintiff from collecting an agreed upon contingency fee for more than a decade.
According to the paperwork, Neff was due 20 percent of the gross payment of monthly checks, and 40 percent of the gross amount for payments of multiple months in one check. Neff calculates that he is owed $240,000 based on 12 years of payments totaling $1.2 million, plus more than $90,000 in interest. He also claims that he would be owed another $240,000 for benefits Arya will receive until his 65 birthday, when the payments will contractually cease.
UNUM was aware of Neff's representation of Arya and purposefully interfered with the relationship to avoid paying its own attorney's fees and possibly take advantage of an individual who did not have ongoing legal representation, the claim says.
The insurance company's actions are allegedly part of a campaign to deny Neff his fees in retaliation of the Philadelphia attorney's successful representation of other plaintiffs who filed against UNUM in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the complaint says. Neff claims that UNUM has sent benefits payments directly to clients before as an attempt to drive a wedge in the relationship.