Reduction of attorney’s fee contract to protect seaman

Monday, June 21, 2004
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a court sitting in admiralty has inherent authority to alter a contingent fee contract for legal services entered into by an uncounseled seaman. In the instant case, plaintiff foreign seaman retained an attorney to represent him in a personal injury suit against the owner of a ship on which he was injured. The contingent fee contract called for recovery (assuming success in the litigation) by the attorney of all expenses and advancements, as well as 40% of the gross recovery. In this case, the award was such that plaintiff seaman, who had long-since returned to his home in Bangladesh and could no longer work as a seaman due to his permanent injuries, would receive nothing in the final disbursement. The trial court ordered that plaintiff’s attorney should recover his prior disbursements, but that the attorney and the seaman should divide the remainder equally. This action was upheld on appeal, the court explaining in great detail how seamen are traditional wards of admiralty. Karim v. Finch Shipping Company Ltd., No. 03-30069 (5th Cir., (HK Law).

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