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Contingency fees not a ceiling on reasonable attorney’s fee award

An Illinois appellate court recently ruled in a nursing home injury case that a plaintiff is entitled to attorney’s fees, even if the plaintiff had a contingency fee agreement in place. Illinois law requires that, when a nursing home violates a resident’s rights, it must pay the resident’s attorney’s fees in addition to actual damages and costs. The award of attorney’s fees is mandatory because it achieves the purpose of the statute, which is to encourage private enforcement of and compliance with the Nursing Home Care Act.

The Illinois appellate court upheld the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees, stating that the terms of a contingency award can be used to provide guidance as to what a reasonable attorney’s fee award would be. The court also noted that the terms of the contingency fee award should not be used as a ceiling or cap. Because the contingency award for some nursing home violations might not provide enough incentive for private enforcement, the court reasoned that the possibility of a statutory award greater than the contingency amount is necessary.

Thus, the existence of a contingency agreement does not preclude an award of attorney’s fees in a nursing home injury case. Instead, the contingency agreement should be considered the minimum or a starting point for the attorney’s fee amount. Ultimately, the relevant question in constructing a reasonable attorney’s fee is whether the amount would provide sufficient incentive for private enforcement of the Nursing Home Care Act’s standards.

Click here for the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision

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