A matter of "the public interest": Province's highest court rules in favour of innocent auto accident victim in fees dispute with his lawyers

TORONTO, June 10, 2016 /CNW/ - The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled there is a clear "public interest" in ensuring that legal fees are fair and said that lawyer's fees shouldn't be allowed to undermine "the public's confidence in the administration of justice."

In their historic ruling, the province's highest court said that two Ottawa law firms were unfair to a vulnerable auto accident victim, Mark Clatney. The firms were not "promoting the public interest, ensuring public confidence in the administration of justice, or protecting [Mark Clatney]." They were only interested in "elevating" their fee agreements, the appellate court ruled.

In 2008, Ottawa resident Mark Clatney was involved in an auto accident and sued the driver responsible. Upon his settlement, Clatney's lawyers billed him in excess of $300,000 – nearly fifty per cent of his settlement – in legal fees. The lawyers held the settlement "hostage" until Mr. Clatney conceded to their demands. Mr. Clatney was not notified about his right to have his legal bill assessed by an independent body.

"We are gratified by the Court of Appeal's decision and the assessment process can now get underway. This is all I ever wanted," said Mr. Clatney. "For the past eight years I have faced one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I hope this precedent will ensure what happened to me won't happen to others."

"The decision is a reminder to the profession that the assessment process is critical to maintaining public confidence in lawyers and the administration of justice" said Paul Auerbach, Mr. Clatney's attorney.  "The court has also reaffirmed that agreements between lawyers and their clients are not strictly commercial arrangements, and can be reviewed by the courts to ensure that they are fair and reasonable."

In their strongly-worded decision, the Court of Appeal declared that the Ottawa lawyers Clatney retained "made no effort... to represent [Mark Clatney's] interests"..."misled [Mr. Clatney] by providing erroneous legal advice"... and "exerted pressure on [Mr. Clatney] to settle." Taken together, the Court of Appeal said, the lawyers did not protect the interests of Mark Clatney, and most importantly promote confidence in the administration of justice.

SOURCE Daisy Consulting Group

For further information: Lisa Kinsella, (416) 642-3100 ext. 226, (416) 319-1023

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