Home > Uncategorized > Thousands for Billables, But Not $133.32 in Tribute!

Thousands for Billables, But Not $133.32 in Tribute!

Would you go to trial over $121?  The recent writ denied case of Martinelli v. Monterey County Superior Court, seemed to answer the question in the affirmative.

Ok, so here’s the deal: applicant court clerk sustained an admitted industrial injury which was resolved by way of C&R in the amount of $10,000, $1,500 of which was to go to the applicant’s attorney.

The C&R was approved on December 6, 2012, and a check was mailed on December 11, 2012.  Apparently, applicant did not receive the check, so a second check was issued on January 13, 2013.

Applicant claimed a right to the interest accrued during that period, while defendant maintained the position that it had discharged its duty by mailing the first check, and interest was not its responsibility.

The amount of money claimed? $121.20.  Oh, and applicant wanted a 10% penalty for the delay, to be paid in the amount of $12.12.

How much time does a person have to have on his hands that he’s willing to pursue $133.32 all the way to trial, reconsideration, and even review by the Court of Appeal?  Now, I’ve heard of going up on reconsideration over 3 cents, so perhaps this is not the smallest amount of controversy out there, but… really?

The C&R included a provision, as most do, that no interest would be owed if payment was made within 30 days of the C&R being approved, but the WCAB (and the WCJ) held that payment was not made within 30 days, because payment is made when the check is sent and paid.

Now, look, dear readers, your humble blogger can understand how the thousands upon thousands of my loyal readers (despite the humble showings of actual e-mail subscribers) might shake their heads at both the applicant and defendant for spending a single hour of billable time fighting this contention.

But, sadly, your humble blogger cannot agree.  While my ethical duties to give competent counsel might require me to advise simply paying the $133.32, as a blogger who has no ethical duties to anyone at this point, I can speak from the heart…

Rudyard Kipling wrote a wonderful poem once, called The Dane-Geld, in which “an armed and agile nation” invaded a neighbor and demand payment to leave.  And, of course, “It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation, to puff and look important and to say: though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.  We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

Kipling, wise man that he was, knew the result of paying tribute in lieu of defending one’s rights:  “[f]or the end of that game is oppression and shame, and the nation that plays it is lost.”

Now, again, when my clients are faced with paying a trifling sum or litigating the matter, my ethical duties require me to advise them on the economics of the matter: $X in billable hours is not worth fighting over, and possibly losing the additional $133.32.

On the other hand, I’m just the attorney, and defendants, especially the adjusters on the file, have a consideration other than saving a few dollars today: the applicant and the applicant’s attorney will quickly learn that they are free to make unreasonable claims, so long as they are a trifling sum, and thereby get extra money.  After all, how would you like to develop the reputation that you can easily be bullied into a few hundred dollars at every turn?

As for the lessons to learn from this case, perhaps we should all be putting even more supplemental language into our settlement documents?  Something about interest being waived on timely mailed but ultimately lost or misplaced payments?

What do you think, dear readers?  Does your reputation for resistance to baseless demands factor into the equation when weighing the cost of the defense?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
  1. Laurel T.
    August 11th, 2014 at 11:07 | #1

    Standing on principle can be a good thing or it can be insanity. There’s a similar crazy impulse to ignore self-interest even after reaching a hard fought mutually advantageous compromise. True story: Both parties are suitably disappointed by not inflicting scorched earth retribution on the other, but there’s an agreement and then a pause while the hard working attorneys draft the settlement document for immediate execution and the settling principals cool their hot tempers walking the courthouse halls. Just when finality is within reach, the elevator doors open and the principals find themselves face to face. One, overwhelmed by an ungovernable impulse, blurts out “Scumbag”, the other screams “You can’t talk to my wife that way” and launches himself at his nemisis. Of course the desirable settlement, and all the hours and money that went into it, go down in a tangle of flailing arms and vicious insults. Why? Because the mania to win overrode common sense. (Of course, it’s puzzling why the attacker felt obliged to defend his wife when “Scumbag” clearly referred to him, not his spouse, but then what do I know? I was just an insurance company lawyer watching months of expensive litigation and days of expensive mediation vanish into nothingness as two “responsible” businessmen scuffled on the floor.

  1. No trackbacks yet.