Committee on Legal Ethics v. Tatterson

In Committee on Legal Ethics v. Tatterson, 177 W. Va. 356, 352 S.E.2d 107 (1986), the attorney had entered into a contingency fee agreement with an elderly blind woman in a matter concerning the recovery of life insurance proceeds for the suicide death of the woman's son. The amount of the life insurance proceeds was $ 61,000. After the insurance company paid the full amount of the insurance proceeds, the attorney deducted his contingency fee of thirty-three percent. An ethics complaint was subsequently filed against the attorney, charging him with obtaining an excessive fee, misrepresenting the degree of difficulty in obtaining the life insurance proceeds, and engaging in unethical conduct while a disciplinary proceeding was pending against him. The Court determined in Tatterson that the evidence supported the charges against the attorney, observing that the attorney did nothing more than assist the woman in filling out forms to obtain the insurance proceeds. The Court addressed the matter as follows: "Courts generally have insisted that a contingent fee be truly contingent. The typically elevated contingent fee reflecting the risk to the attorney of receiving no fee will usually be permitted only if the representation indeed involves a significant degree of risk. The clearest case where there would be an absence of real risk would be a case in which an attorney attempts to collect from a client a supposedly contingent fee for obtaining insurance proceeds for a client when there is no indication that the insurer will resist the claim." (Tatterson, 177 W.Va. at 363, 352 S.E.2d at 113-14.)