Recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal announced a truly historic decision. One that is so important, it will fundamentally affect the legal rights of people in Ontario for generations.
The legal community itself are still analyzing the stunning court decision -- which could see some firms finally held to a fair standard, while others may fade away for past transgressions. The decision ensures people in Ontario will have some measure of protection when they need legal representation.
The landmark ruling revolves around a woman named Cassie Hodge. She is a mother of two from Brooklin, Ontario, who developed chronic pain after being injured in a car accident in 2002. She sued for money to help with her recovery, and eventually was awarded $150,000. Her lawyer took over 90 per cent of that settlement, leaving her with roughly $10,000.
There have been more and more stories like this, shining a light on the shady practices of personal injury lawyers. Lawyers who like to say they fight for victims, seem to battle for their own bills instead. In fact, as other reports have shown, some have even hired high-priced lobbyists to stop a parliamentary bill that might offer some measure of protection to accident victims like Hodge. Victims like me, too.
I would never have heard of Cassie Hodge -- and would certainly have missed the news about the case -- if her story didn't so closely match my own. I was injured in a car accident and left with chronic pain, and after months and months of legal wrangling I ended up with a fraction of my own settlement. Money meant to help me recover and my family move on, was instead lining the pockets of the lawyers I hired to protect me.
Hodge decided to take action and sue her former lawyer for what is commonly called "double-dipping." In addition to the contingency fee that Hodge paid -- the lawyer is alleged to have billed for "costs" as well as the prearranged fee. Imagine paying for a steak at a restaurant, and finding out in addition to the menu price they had a separate charge to actually cook it for you!
Thanks to Hodge, other victims of the same scam by the same firm came forward with a class action suit. The lawyers tried to put a stop to that and fought the certification of the case as a class action. On Friday, the Ontario Court of Appeals sided with the victims and will allow the case to proceed as a class action.
It was nice to see the courts recognize these victims deserve justice and make a decision to stand up for them. But the fight is far from over.
As a result of my own accident and legal ordeal, I became involved with a group called Hit Twice. We try to educate people about contingency fees, and how lawyers are taking outrageous amounts of settlements meant to help victims recover. We also do our best to urge the Ontario government to take action.
The government has the power to help prevent people who have already been injured in a car accident from getting hit all over again by an unfair legal bill. So far the top lawyer in the province -- Attorney General Yasir Naqvi -- has done nothing. Maybe it's apathy? Maybe he thinks that over 60 per cent of a settlement going to lawyers instead of victims is okay? We don't know, we can only guess while we listen to his silence on this issue.
The Ontario Court of Appeal decision opens the door for many more victims to come together, and demand justice from their lawyers. Cassie Hodge may be the first name you have ever heard on this issue, but she certainly will not be the last.
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