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Thursday 27 July 2017

Judge says legal fees too high as he rejects €212,000 bill

Tim Healy

A JUDGE has expressed serious concern that solicitors are not taking account of the country's dire financial straits when drawing up their legal bills.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns rejected a bill in excess of €200,000 from a Galway-based solicitor, claiming elements of it were artificial and irrational.

"Levels of costs allowed during years of prosperity may no longer be appropriate in times of grave hardship," he said.

Mr Justice Kearns made his comments when overturning a court official's decision to allow a general instruction fee of €212,000 to Keane Solicitors, Eyre Square, Galway.

It included a €14,000 bill for what were called "suicide abatement" emails and calls to their client, Scott Bourbon.

Mr Bourbon was seven when he was injured crossing the road in Rahoon Park, Galway, in 1993, and he later sought compensation from the driver in an action brought by Keane Solicitors. He now lives in Florida.

Keane Solicitors had argued Mr Bourbon was suicidal during the latter part of the 15-year case and claimed 70 hours' work at €200 per hour for "suicide abatement sessions".

Mr Justice Kearns said that was not an appropriate matter for the court official -- the Taxing Master who examines legal bills submitted by lawyers -- to address.

A solicitor has no special qualification to provide counselling advice, he said.

The judge quashed Taxing Master James Flynn's decision approving the €212,000 fee related to the case of Mr Bourbon (25), who secured an €800,000 settlement in 2009 in relation to the 1993 road accident.

The appropriate costs will now be determined by the judge or returned to a Taxing Master.

Complex

The defendants to the Bourbon case had appealed against the fees allowed to Keane's, which originally claimed total costs of €406,069, including a €240,000 instruction fee.

Defending the fees, Keane's contended the case, initiated in 1995, was alive over a 15-year period and involved very complex issues here and in the US where Mr Bourbon lived from 1995.

But the judge said the decision to award €212,000 based on an estimate the solicitors worked 1.77 hours on the case per week over 15 years was "artificial and irrational" and, if upheld, would provide incentives to solicitors "to drag out litigation for as long as possible", he added.

Irish Independent

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