ATTORNEY’S FEES-UTPCPL

November 6th, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Attorney's Fees

Krishnan v. Cutler Group, 2017 Pa. Super. LEXIS 766 (October 2, 2017) Bender, P.J.E.  This case involves a building contract and award of attorney’s fees under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.  The trial court found in favor of the homeowners on their Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law claim.  It granted request for prejudgment interest, denied the request for all their attorney’s fees, granted a request for attorney’s fees and costs in part, and otherwise sustained the verdict.  The judgment was affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded for consideration of attorney’s fees award, consistent with the opinion.

The court has discretion to award attorney’s fees under the UTPCPL.  This also applies to award of costs, including expert fees.  The trial court appropriately awarded expert fees.  Also was proper to award prejudgment interest.  The court has discretion to award prejudgment interest on some claims and not on others.  The homeowner spent a half million dollars to have this home built, and there were many problems.  They had to pay almost $86,000 out of pocket to bring the home in compliance.  Awarding additional fees and costs were not a windfall to the homeowner.  An attorney is not limited by a contingent fee agreement. That is not a ceiling on the recovery of attorney’s fees under a fee-shifting provision of a remedial statute.  The verdict was not against the weight of the evidence either.  There was a breach of implied warranty of habitability and breach of implied warranty of workmanlike construction.  Water infiltration to the house supported the claim for breach of implied warranties as well.  There was no statute of limitations issue.  It is correct that a plaintiff must show justifiable reliance on defendant’s wrongful conduct to bring a cause of action under UTPCPL.  That was satisfied in this case.  Plaintiff alleging violations of the Consumer Protection Law must prove the common law fraud element of justifiable reliance and not all the elements of common law fraud.  The builder had engaged in the practice of deceptive conduct.  In spite of the fact that the hourly rates were reasonable, nothing in the course of this litigation was simple due to the defendant’s uncooperative tactics.  The court placed unreasonable weight on the fact that plaintiffs had a 20% contingency agreement with counsel. The appellate court determined that the trial court abused its discretion in calculating award of attorney’s fees by apparently limiting the award of attorney’s fees based on the contingency agreement.