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Idaho Supreme Court Reverses Attorney Fee Case

The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed and remanded an Idaho Sixth Judicial District Court’s order denying attorney fees for the Plaintiffs after prevailing at trial. The issue under scrutiny at the Supreme Court level was the interpretation of Idaho Statute IC § 12-120(4), a fee statute designed to avert litigation in small-dollar personal injury claims. District court held that petitioners by statute cited above rendered themselves ineligible to seek attorney fees by seeking at trial damages of more than the statute cap of $25,000. Furthermore, a new treatment sought at trial, but not listed in the initial claim, was interpreted as a new item of injury, also inadmissible under color of the fee statute.

The Plaintiffs, Matthew R. Bennett and Benjamin L. Walton, were injured in October 2007 when their car was struck by a car driven by Defendant Nancy Patrick. Plaintiffs sent a demand letter to defendant’s insurance company, Allstate, in July 2008, listing per statute the extent of injuries incurred and proposing settlement of $20,000 for Bennett and $23,000 for Walton. Allstate offered Bennett $2,600 and Walton $10,030.92. Both parties filed for adjustment of award. District court adjusted $5,065.11 for Bennett and $10,671.63 for Walton. The court found Bennett and Walton to have prevailed but denied attorney fees under IC § 12-120(4) reasons stated above.

The Idaho Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs were within the constraints of the fees statute in that their initial claim was less than the $25,000 cap, and the new treatment first mentioned at trial did not constitute a new item of injury, which satisfied the requirements of the law. The court further held that it was immaterial whether Plaintiff’s complaint prayed for more than $25,000 and noted the district court expressly stated the complaint did not allege a significant new item of damage.

The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed the district court and remanded for consideration of attorney fees, suggesting that the lower court take into account all the litigation that rose out of failure to honor the intent of Idaho Code § 12-120(4), which was designed to limit just this type of action. See: Bennett v. Patrick, 152 Idaho 854, 276 P.3d 726 (Idaho, 2012).

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Related legal case

Bennett v. Patrick