Blank Space on Contingency Fee Agreement Makes it Unenforceable

No Meeting of Minds No Contract

See the full video at https://rumble.com/v4u5jm2-blank-space-on-contingency-fee-agreement-makes-it-unenforceable.html and at https://youtu.be/b_Tje0MVSgs

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Attorney Richard Schicker sued a former client, Brandi Cady, seeking payment for attorney fees under a contingency fee agreement. The district court dismissed Schicker’s complaint, finding that there had been no meeting of the minds during the formation of the agreement and thus there was no valid, enforceable contract.

In Richard Schicker v. Brandi Cady, No. A-23-455, Court of Appeals of Nebraska (May 7, 2024) the Nebraska Court of Appeals explained what is needed to form a viable and enforceable contract.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Attorney Schicker sued Cady alleging that he had entered into a written contract with Cady whereby Schicker was to represent Cady in a claim against Lincoln Financial Group (LFG) for life insurance benefits owing to Cady due to the death of Cady’s husband. LFG later agreed to pay Cady the full policy amount and the complaint sought judgment against Cady for 40 percent of that amount, plus any costs incurred by Schicker.

Cady testified that at the time of her husband’s death, the couple had three young children, and that she immediately attempted to collect his life insurance benefits.

Cady called Schicker’s law office and testified that she called to inquire about a personal injury claim, as she had heard from community members that the highway where her husband was killed had been deemed dangerous and was soon to be under construction.

A contingency fee agreement between Cady and Schicker was executed. The agreement was entered into evidence and state that Schicker was to be paid 40 percent of the amount recovered or settled on behalf of Cady. In the first paragraph of the fee agreement is the statement, “[c]lient may have a claim against ___” and the section is filled in with “Lincoln Financial[.]” She did not recall “Lincoln Financial” appearing anywhere in the fee agreement at the time she signed it.

On October 2, 2017, at 10:36 a.m., Cady sent Schicker an email with the subject line “Cancellation of Services.” The email states: “At this time, I have a family member who is going to handle insurance claims for Lincoln Financial. … I do still want to retain you for possible case regarding the accident itself.”

On October 2, 2017 the parties canceled their fee agreement. Another copy of the fee agreement was entered into evidence, which includes the additional notation “Agreement cancelled as of 10-2-2017” at the bottom of the form and Schicker’s signature below the notation.

Cady testified that she had done all of the work to collect the insurance claim herself. Klenda (a representative of LFG) testified that the only phone call she had with Schicker occurred after the claim was paid and he was attempting to collect attorney fees from LFG. The district court dismissed Schicker’s complaint. The blank space in the fee agreement as established that the actual fee agreement was not completed.

In addition the district court found that Schicker lacked credibility. Schicker’s itemized bill stated that he spent 58.6 hours of billable time over the course of 12 days working toward the collection of the insurance benefit.

The district court concluded that no agreement had been formed between Schicker and Cady because there was no meeting of the minds as elicited by the testimony at trial.

ANALYSIS

Meeting of the Minds.

A party seeking to enforce a contract has the burden of establishing the existence of a valid, legally enforceable contract. To create a contract, there must be both an offer and an acceptance; there must also be a meeting of the minds or a binding mutual understanding between the parties to the contract. It is a fundamental rule that in order to be binding, an agreement must be definite and certain as to the terms and requirements. It must identify the subject matter and spell out the essential commitments and agreements with respect thereto.

Because a meeting of the minds had not occurred, there existed no valid, enforceable contract between the parties. The district court did not err in so finding.

Since there was never a meeting of the parties’ minds concerning the claim at issue in the contingency fee agreement there was no valid and enforceable contract.

ZALMA OPINION

Signing a contract where the subject of the contract is left blank is an error a law student would never make nor should any licensed attorney like attorney Schicker. He had the unmitigated gall to sue a client for fees he claimed he earned to gain the benefits of a life insurance policy claiming to spend more than 4 hours a day for 12 straight days on the subject although he never contacted the insurer before they had already paid. He never obtained a valid contingency fee agreement because the key element was left blank when the client signed it. Amateurish actions by a lawyer should never be enforced.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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