HARRISBURG — The state Commonwealth Court recently upheld a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board that denied a contingent fee on a settlement that was rejected by a claimant. 

The case was the result of the termination of a lawyer-client agreement before a settlement had been confirmed. The opinion was written by Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini on April 27.

The petitioner, Wilfredo Cruz-Ortiz, was injured in a workplace incident on Nov. 26, 2012 while he was working for MacFarland Landscape Service. He suffered an injury to his left arm and lower back when a tree fell on him while he was pruning trees. 

He hired Amit Shah and Martin LLC to represent him in his Workers’ Compensation claim. The agreement between the lawyers and the client stipulated that they were entitled to 20 percent of any monies awarded, including past and future Workers' Compensation benefits and any settlement.

He was given benefits and returned to work on Jan 22, 2013. 

On May 10, 2013, the Workers’ Compensation judge allowed for a notice of compensation payable to be issued. The employer agreed to pay partial indemnity benefits covering the dates of Nov. 26, 2012, to Feb. 23, 2013, and disability benefits after Feb. 24, 2013. A 20 percent fee was agreed upon for the attorney. 

On Aug. 6, 2014, the employer filed a petition to seek approval of a compromise and release agreement that had been negotiated with the lawyer of the $65,000 award.

The claimant then switched lawyers to David Stern of Pond, LeHocky, Stern and Giordano, who requested a withdrawal of the pending petition. The petition was dismissed without prejudice. 

Amit Shah and Martin LLC then requested they be compensated the 20 percent of the $65,000, which was denied as the Workers’ Compensation judge found that no counsel fees were owed and they had been “adequately compensated for legal work performed for [the] claimant."

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