Consumer Issues

Litigation Shenanigans & the Attorney Fee Multiplier-What You Need to Know

Most consumer and personal injury lawyers represent clients based on a contingency fee agreement. That means that the attorney will not get paid unless the client receives a settlement, award, or judgment in their favor. Many firms and attorneys defending lawsuits charge by the hour. They are then paid monthly by the corporate defendant or insurance company. This can often result in defense lawyers using tactics that are meant to drain the plaintiff’s attorney’s time, money, and resources in an effort to force the plaintiff to settle or divert the plaintiff’s lawyers attention from the issues in the case. These tactics can come at a price though, and an unpublished Ninth Circuit opinion sheds some light on the remedy available to a party who is subjected to litigation shenanigans. In Beck v. Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Co., No. 16-35816 (9th Cir. June 5, 2018) the Ninth Circuit approved an attorney fee multiplier of 2.0 due to the defendant’s litigation tactics. What this means is that the plaintiff’s lawyers attorney fee claim of $597,669.25 was doubled to $1,195,398.50 “due to the nature of this case and the conduct of Metropolitan and its Counsel.” Beck v. Metropolitan Prop. and Casualty Insurance Company,. 3:13-cv-00879-AC pg 44. (Dist. Or. Sept. 16, 2016)

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You are probably wondering how was the plaintiff able to force the defendant Insurance company to pay double the amount of her attorney fees. Thankfully, John Acosta, United States Magistrate Judge, drafted a 56 page order that provides a clear road map for lawyers who are seeking an attorney fee multiplier in Oregon. In this breach of insurance contract case, Judge Acosta addressed the legal standard that permitted the plaintiff to seek fees under ORS 742.061 (whether or not the plaintiff satisfied the “proof of loss requirement). Judge Acosta found the plaintiff had satisfied the proof of loss requirement under ORS 742.061. As a result the defendant was forced to pay plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees. The question then became, What is the reasonable amount of fees?

The Judge used the ORS 20.075(1) and (2) factors to determine what was reasonable. First, the Judge rejected defendant Metropolitan’s argument that the ORS 20.075(1) factors apply only to the court’s determination whether to award fees and not the amount of fees, and not to the reasonableness of the fees.. In doing so, the court provided clear guidance that both ORS 20.075(1) and ORS 20.075(2) factors are to be used to determine the reasonable amount of attorney fees to award.

The Court then delved into the factors under ORS 20.075(1). The court evaluated the parties’ respective pre-litigation conduct and did not look kindly at Metropolitan’s attempts to resolve the case on unilaterally established terms. The court also looked at the objective reasonableness of the claims and defenses asserted by the parties under ORS 20.075(1)(b). In addressing that factor the court acknowledged that the case was a simple breach of contract case. However, the defense asserted unreasonable defenses in its answer, and advanced unreasonable arguments to use as the equivalent of defenses. For example the defense asserted a merit-less “Fraud” defense. This is a common defense tactic in consumer cases, and the court did not take kindly to it. The Court then delved into the various other ORS 20.075(1) factors and found they either weighed in plaintiff’s favor or they did not apply.

The court then turned to the ORS 20.075(2) factors. The court did a fantastic job concisely addressing each of the numerous factors. In doing so, the court addressed the prevailing market rates for legal services in the relevant community. In this case the plaintiff’s attorneys submitted expert declarations as expert evidence of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ skill and experience in insurance law and to support the hourly rates she requested. The court used the expert opinions and the 2017 Oregon State Bar Economic Survey to assist in establishing the attorneys’ respective hourly rates.

The court also addressed whether the fee is fixed or contingent factor under ORS 20.075(2)(h). The plaintiff’s lawyer initially worked under an hourly fee and then transferred to a contingency fee. The Beck case is similar to many consumer cases, because the defense used tactics which made it impossible for the plaintiff to pay the lawyer an hourly rate. However, the firm representing Ms. Beck continued to be able to do so under a contingency fee agreement. The court noted that the defense’s litigation strategy increased the risk to Beck’s attorneys that they might not be fully compensated for their time, and that factor weighed in favor of an attorney fee award.

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The court then addressed the attorney fee multiplier. The court noted, “Oregon law permits an enhancement of fees when it is supported by the facts and circumstances of the case. See Griffin v. TriMet, 112 Or. App. 575, 585 (1992) aff’d in part and rev’d in part, 318 Or. 500 (1994) (approving trial court award of 2.0 multiplier).” The court then spent significant time addressing the facts leading up to the litigation and the defense’s litigation tactics. The court noted that the defense’s efforts to attempt to obtain irrelevant evidence through the discovery process, using theories that lacked any relevance, and the defenses disorganized or deliberately untimely approach to raising various issues resulted in the plaintiff incurring fees for having to respond to both the substance of the issues and their “procedural infirmity.”

However, the court limited the 2.0 multiplier to the fees the plaintiff only incurred during the litigation. The court concluded that pre-litigation fees that were incurred were not subject to the multiplier because the defense’s litigation counsel played no role in the parties’ negotiations.

Judge Acosta did a magnificent job in providing a road map and guidance for future litigants facing a defendant who desires to engage in litigation shenanigans in a fee shifting case. Hopefully the opinion will have a deterrent effect and help litigants combat litigation shenanigans. The opinion is also a fantastic example of the various issues a fee petition should address and the arguments a fee seeking party may face. Lastly, the opinion is an excellent example of the facts and factors the court looks to when deciding if a fee multiplier is appropriate in a particular case.

If you are having an issue with an insurance company or have questions about attorney fees, call Jeremiah Ross at 503.224.1658. Ross Law PDX represents people in various claims against their insurance companies Ross LAW PDX is happy to represent Oregonians in Personal Injury Protection Insurance disputes, and claims for Uninsured Motorist Benefits and Under-insured Motorist benefits. Please remember the law is constantly changing and to not solely rely on this post.


Oregon Women Pay More For Car Insurance Than Oregon Men! Here is Why...

As an Oregon Personal Injury Lawyer and Consumer Lawyer, I am regularly asked by people if making a claim to their auto insurance will cause their insurance rates to go up. This is not an easy question to answer, because Insurance Companies are for profit businesses. As a result, Insurers are going to do what they feel is necessary in order to make a profit unless regulators or attorneys’ stop them. For example, GEICO was ordered to pay $23,000,000.00 to one of their insureds for GEICO failing to pay benefits, and denying payments on a whim. State Farm agreed to pay its customers $250,000,000 (That is not a typo) in order to avoid a racketeering trial in which customers claimed that State Farm was rigging an election for a Judge that had made favorable rulings for State Farm. USAA agreed to pay $39,000,000.00 to settle a lawsuit filed by its insureds (Veterans, Active Duty Military, and their families). These cases are evidence that some Insurance Companies are willing to skirt the law and disregard the moral high-ground in an effort to make a profit. Another example of insurers putting profit over people is how insurance companies are charging Oregon women more than Oregon men for auto insurance.

A recent study by an insurance search engine, The Zebra, found that Oregon women’ paid roughly $70.00 more for auto insurance last year than men did. A recent Pew Research study also came to the same conclusions on a national level. The studies found certain states prohibit gender based pricing, but Oregon is not one of them. What this means is that Insurers are at liberty to charge women more for insurance than men, and they do not have to have any justification for doing so.

The statistics support the fact that Oregon insurance companies are charging dramatically different rates for women than men. In 2016, insurers charged Oregon women $13.00 more for auto insurance than men. However, in 2018 that number inexplicably jumped to women paying $71.00 more for auto insurance than men. Does that mean that women are more dangerous on the road than men if insurers are charging them more? The answer is no.

The data does not support the Insurance Industry’s decisions to charge women more for car insurance in 25 States. The Zebra study affirmed that women and men equally engage in distracted driving, so that could not be a basis to charge women more. Additionally, fatality statistics do not support the insurance industry’s decision to overcharge Oregon women for car insurance. For example, men are the drivers in the vast majority of fatal Driving Under the Influence (DUII) crashes. Men also cause more speed related wrongful deaths on the road. The statistics show that men are riskier to insure than women.

Additionally, different companies charge different rates to similarly situated women throughout the country. For example, State Farm charged middle aged women the same as men. However, GEICO charged middle aged women 16% more than men. This is an important statistic. If insurance companies rates reflect the risk of a particular demographic of drivers then there would not be such a large disparity between the rates particular insurance companies are charging.

Then why are insurance companies charging women the so called “pink tax” to insure their vehicles? Why have the number of states where women pay more than men doubled in the past two years? The answer is simple, profits. The insurance industry is operating in a relaxed regulatory environment that permits them to take actions that will make their companies more profitable, even if that means imposing the “pink tax” on women.

For example, the insurance industry knows that Oregon does not have a bad faith claim, and Insurance Companies are specifically exempted from Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA). The UTPA is a law that provides consumers a remedy if consumers are ripped off by a business. However, the insurance industry lobbied the legislature to be exempted from that law. As a result the insurance industry knows they are likely immune from any real consequences of arbitrarily charging women more for insurance than men.

Despite the insurance industry’s protections, here at Ross Law we will sue insurance companies if a person has been wronged by an insurer and there is a recognized legal remedy for that person. For example we regularly sue insurance companies on behalf of people whose automobile insurers deny paying personal injury protection benefits. We also sue insurance companies to collect uninsured and under-insured motorist benefits. Ross Law has also sued insurance companies for denying insurance coverage for a car crash.

If you or someone you know has an issue with an auto insurance company please call Jeremiah Ross at 503.224.1658 for your free case evaluation. Ross Law PDX is happy to represent Oregonians in many types insurance disputes.

Please note that Ross Law PDX is not affiliated with The Zebra or the Pew Research Center. Please refer to the links in the article for the most accurate information. Please note that this blog may be considered attorney advertising and expresses the opinions of this law office. Please remember that the law is constantly changing and insurance issues are usually very complicated. Please consult with an Oregon attorney if you have a dispute with an Oregon insurer. Do not simply rely on this blog post.




Ross Law Files Lawsuit Against Ontario Auto Ranch for Unlawful Vehicle Sale

Ross Law PDX recently filed a lawsuit in Malheur County Circuit Court against Ontario Auto Ranch for an unlawful “Yo-Yo” sale of a vehicle. This is one of the more egregious “Yo-Yo” sales that we have seen in years.

Yo-Yo scams go by a few different terms (spot delivery, bushing scams), but essentially the scam goes like this: The dealership informs the consumer that their financing has been approved and the deal is done. The consumer then drives the vehicle off the lot and is under the impression it is theirs.

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Days, weeks, or months later, the dealership calls the consumer and tells the consumer that the financing did not go through. The dealership will then claim they can obtain financing for the vehicle, but they will either need more money for a down payment, or they have to change the financing terms, or both. This puts the consumer in a difficult spot, because the consumer is under the impression the vehicle was theirs. Consumers don’t want to have to explain to friends and family that they had to return the vehicle because they couldn’t get it financed. Dealers know this, and capitalize on the consumer’s fears to get the consumer to agree to new less favorable financing terms. This allows the dealership to squeeze more money out of the consumer.

Yo-Yo sales are legal. However, the law requires the dealership to comply with certain deadlines and make certain disclosures in order to make a Yo-Yo sale legal. For example, the dealership has 14 days from the date the consumer takes possession of the vehicle to find the consumer financing or inform the consumer that financing under the original terms could not be obtained. During this 14-day period the dealership cannot sell the Trade-In vehicle. Additionally, if the dealership cannot obtain vehicle financing under the original terms, then the dealership must offer to immediately return any vehicle traded in and any cash down payment. If the dealership fails to do this, they have broken the law.

Usually there are other legal violations that flow out of these unlawful sales. Truth In Lending Act violations are common, unlawful “payment packing” is also common, and there will often be unlawful attempts to conceal negative equity or inflate cash down payments in an effort to obtain financing from the lender. This is what we allege Ontario Auto Ranch has done.

Ontario Auto Ranch is a large auto dealership in Ontario, Oregon. Auto Ranch sold our client a 2015 Ford truck in June 2018. Auto Ranch orchestrated the deal so that our client would trade in two vehicles for the Ford truck, and the dealership would obtain financing for the Ford Truck. Our client took possession of the vehicle in June 2018 and the dealership informed our client the financing had been approved. At that time, the dealership took possession of the 2 trade in vehicles.

One of the trade-ins was a 2017 Dodge truck, the other was an 2011 Ford. The Dodge was financed and the consumer owed more than the Dodge was worth. (negative equity) The financing documents do not note the Dodge had any negative equity, so it appears that the dealership gave our client cash for the 2011 Ford and applied that amount to the “Trade-In value” of the Dodge. The financing documents are silent on the amount the dealer paid our client for the 2011 Ford. This allowed the dealership to conceal the Dodge’s negative equity and make it appear the dealership paid more for the Dodge than they actually did.

The Retail Installment Contract was also silent as to “Theft Protection” and “Pre-Paid Maintenance.” Dealerships make significant profits on these additional products. However, these products appear on our client’s “Motor Vehicle Purchase Agreement.” It appears these products were unlawfully rolled into the purchase price of the vehicle, and were not disclosed in accordance with the law.

After the purchase of the Ford Truck, our client continued to contact Ontario Auto Ranch. He wanted to know where he would send his monthly payments to. Ontario Auto Ranch informed him that the vehicle financing was being processed and blamed the delay on the Credit Union.

Six weeks after our client took possession of the vehicle, Ontario Auto Ranch finally informed our client that they were having difficulty financing the vehicle due to a paperwork error. In August 2018, the dealership demanded our client sign a new Retail Installment Contract with new financing terms. Auto Ranch again failed to disclose the Dodge’s negative equity and there is no mention of the 2011 Ford on the August Retail Installment Contract. However, this time the dealership noted on the Retail Installment Contract that there was $299.00 paid to an entity for “Maintenance.” Similar to the June 2018 sale, our client was instructed where to sign and did so based on the dealer’s representations.

Our client continued to call Auto Ranch in August and September 2018. At this point, our client had the vehicle for roughly three months. However, Ontario Auto Ranch gave him the run-around and would not provide a clear answer on the status of the financing. In September, Ontario Auto Ranch asserted the loan needed to be re-submitted to the bank.

Later in September, the dealership informed our client that it was unable to obtain funding for the Ford’s loan under the terms of the agreement. Auto Ranch informed our client that a different bank could finance the deal, but at a substantially higher interest rate. Shortly thereafter, Auto Ranch informed our client that the options were: 1) sign a new financing contract with a higher interest rate, or 2) Auto Ranch would repossess the Ford. Auto Ranch never informed our client whether or not he could obtain his trade-ins back. In October 2018, our client contacted Ontario Auto Ranch in an effort to determine the status of financing. The dealership has yet to get back to him or contact Ross Law.

As a result, our client had no choice but to file a lawsuit against the dealership. This type of scam is all too common. However, it rarely gets to this point. As you can imagine this has been extremely frustrating and difficult for our client. We are eager to force the dealership to attempt to justify their actions and hopefully Auto Ranch will learn from this lawsuit.

FOR A FULL FACTUAL BASIS FOR THIS POST SEE: Malheur County Circuit Court Case 18CV55364. If you, or someone you know, has been ripped off by a car dealers, call Ross Law PDX at 503.224.1658. Jeremiah Ross represents consumers throughout the state of Oregon. Please note that this litigation is evolving and refer to the Court’s file for updated information, and this post is based on current information as we know it. The dealership may have a different version of events, and we look forward to hearing those.

Jeremiah Ross Votes to Approve The 2018 Final Report on the Task Force on Autonomous Vehicle

After numerous meetings, hours of reviewing documents, and collaborating and discussing issues with others, Oregon’s Task for On Autonomous Vehicles unanimously voted to approve a 2018 Final Report to the Oregon State Legislature. I was honored to represent consumers on this committee and protect their interests on the Liability and Insurance Sub-Committee. In addition to myself there was only one other personal injury lawyer on the committee and I was proud to be the only Consumer lawyer on the committee. The Report will now be forwarded to the Legislature to assist them in formulating laws and policies regarding Oregon’s Autonomous Vehicles. Click here to review the full task force on Autonomous Vehicles 2018 Final Report.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a crash with an Autonomous Vehicle Call Oregon Personal Injury and Consumer& Auto Fraud Attorney Jeremiah Ross at 503.224.1658 or Ross Law LLC. Please remember this post is for informational purposes only and that it can be considered ATTORNEY ADVERTISING.

Beware Oregon Car Buyers! Hurricane Season Means Flood Car Season

Hurricane Florence is currently pummeling the Carolina Coast.  Buckets of rain have fallen and are expected to continue to fall over the next couple of days.  Major cities are predicted to flood.  People have left their homes in search of safety until the rain and flooding subsides.  Once the rain stops the clean up will begin. Katrina and Sandy have taught us that clean up can take years.  There are entire industries dedicated to natural disaster clean up. Of particular concern is the industry that has evolved to remove and resell the hundreds of thousands of flood vehicles that will eventually be sold to unwary Oregonians.

Flood vehicles” are vehicles that have been in flood areas and the vast majority of them have been partially submerged for a period of time.  Flood vehicles can develop terrible mechanical and electrical issues even though they may look great.  I have litigated cases involving Hurricane Sandy cars being sold in, or through, Oregon.  Throughout that litigation, I learned how thousands of cars get out of the flood zone and are resold throughout the country.  

First, an insurance company representative typically will go through neighborhoods seeking out homes and vehicles that are insured by their insurance company.  The insurance company employee, or subcontractor, then briefly inspects the vehicle.  The insurance company often renders the vehicle a total loss on the spot.  Then the insurance company immediately initiates the process to total the vehicle and title it as a Flood Vehicle. The vehicles are then transported from the neighborhood to a large holding area.  Thousands of vehicles are then auctioned off and sold around the Country and the world.  Some of the vehicles will wind up in Oregon.

Prior to coming to Oregon, some of the titles may be washed.  Title Washing is a process where a vehicle with a branded title, such as a Flood Vehicle, will be titled in a state that may issue a clean title to that vehicle. Then the vehicle is re-sold and may wind up at your local used car dealer.  The new Title will not be a "branded" or a "Flood" title, so consumers will not be alerted the vehicle will likely have serious electrical or mechanical issues.  

Some dealers will rip consumers off in a more brazen fashion.  These dealers simply take the consumer's money and then provide the branded title after the funds have cleared. Then the dealer claims they informed the buyer that the vehicle was a flood vehicle.  Dealers often have unwary consumers sign a piece of paper noting the vehicle maybe a flood or salvaged vehicle, However, the dealer will simply state this is a standard form.  Then once the salvaged title is provided to the consumer, the dealer uses the document as a defense to claim the consumer knew of the branded title.

Buyers need to beware of flood vehicles over the next few years.   If a consumer unknowingly purchases a flood vehicle, then the seller may be liable for the violations of various State or Federal Laws.   

What you Can Do To Try And Ensure You Do Not Purchase a Flood Damaged Car:  It is important for Oregon Consumers to inspect any vehicle they may buy.  That great deal on Craigslist may actually be a terrible deal for a car that is plagued with electrical issues.   Oregonians should inspect the vehicle.  Consumers should examine underneath the vehicle to ensure there are not any mineral deposits, a "silt line," or significant mud.  The headlights may have mud or debris lines inside of them.  The interior and trunk should be inspected for any discoloration that indicates flooding.  If the vehicle smells funny (either of mold or heavy chemicals) that may be an indication of flooding.  The consumer should turn on and off all of the lights and radio, and operate any electrical features (windows, sunroof, rear windshield wiper)to ensure they all function properly.  

The consumer should also pull a title history report from Carfax or AutoCheck to determine: 1) if the vehicle has a branded title, and 2) to determine if the vehicle is from the North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia.  However, these reports are not always accurate so they shouldn't solely be relied upon.   If the vehicle was bought or sold at a "Copart" auction yard that is a big red flag that the vehicle may have had a salvaged title, or had previously been total. These tips may assist consumers in protecting themselves from buying a flood car, but it may not completely protect car buyers.

If you, or someone you know, purchased a vehicle that you believe is a flood vehicle, lemon, or has a salvaged title, then call Jeremiah Ross for your free case evaluation.  Call Oregon Lemon Law and dealer fraud lawyer Ross Law PDX at 503.224.1658.  

Please remember this is attorney advertising.  Please do not solely rely on this post to obtain information to ensure you are not purchasing a flood vehicle. Have the vehicle checked by a mechanic and take other steps to ensure the vehicle is not a flood damaged vehicle. These are merely some steps that may protect Oregon car buyers.

Ross Law Filed 2 Lawsuits Last Month Against The Same Car Dealer

May was a busy month for Ross Law PDX.  We filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of personal injury clients and auto fraud and consumer clients.  It is rare to file multiple lawsuits against a single car dealer in a month, but it happened. We filed two lawsuits against Cascade Auto Inc alleging violations of Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practices Act and other statutory violations arising out of the purchase and sale of two separate motor vehicles.  Both of the lawsuits allege Cascade Auto Inc. sold a vehicle with a material defect that the dealer knew or should have known about.   One client was forced to file a lawsuit because Cascade Auto Inc. refused to honor the arbitration agreement they directed our client sign at the time of the vehicle purchase.   

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If you or someone you know was ripped off by an Oregon Car dealer call auto fraud and lemon law lawyer Jeremiah Ross.  Ross Law PDX represents consumers who have purchased lemons or vehicles with material defects, have been victims of yo-yo sales or other car financing schemes, and other cases involving the purchase and sale of a motor vehicle from an Oregon Car dealer.

5 Things To Know about Medical Debt and Bill Collectors

Many of my personal injury clients tell me they would have never sought the help of a lawyer if the at-fault person (bad driver, building owner, negligent business) would have simply paid their medical bills.  Medical bills can quickly spiral out of control and it seems that there is no way to ever pay them off.   Thankfully personal injury lawyers and consumer lawyers can often help people with getting their medical bills paid off.  Attorneys may be able to get insurance coverage for the bills, force the negligent party pay the medical bills, or work with the medical provider to accept a reduced amount.   However, sometimes that is not possible, and the debt must be paid.  In that case, there are things you should know.  The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) has published a great article that has valuable information for anyone that is dealing with medical debt. 

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Below a few highlights from the article:

  1. Pay Medical Debt Last: Don't ignore it, but you may want to pay off your other debt before medical debt.  This is due to the fact that it is on the lowest priority of debt.  Also, do not take out a loan or credit card to pay medical debt.   This is due to the fact medical debt often has little or no interest in it.  Credit cards and loans have interest, so you will pay more to pay off the original debt.
  2. Debt Collectors Powers Are Limited:  Many medical providers will assign your debt to a debt collector.  These are the people that call to annoy and harass you into paying off the debt.  However, there bark is often bigger than their bite.   Medical Debt is unique in that credit reporting agencies will not include it in a credit report until it is over six months old. This is important because debt collectors will often tell people their credit will be trashed if they don't pay up immediately.   If debt collectors continue to call you or attempt to contact you, you also can send them a letter telling them to stop. Federal law prevents them from continuing to contact you after receiving that letter. 
  3. Medical Debt is Often Not Reported to Credit Agencies:  Often, many medical providers do not report medical debt to the three major credit reporting agencies. However, debt collectors may.
  4. You Can Still Go to the Emergency Room If You Owe the Hospital Money: Federal law (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA)) prohibits hospitals from turning people away from the ER due to their inability to pay. 
  5. You Might Be Able to Correct the Bills:  Medical bills can contain errors.  You can work with the medical provider to correct the mistake or get the bills covered by insurance.   

The article contains a lot of helpful additional information that you should read to help you understand your rights and obligations with medical debt.  If you have incurred medical debt as a result of another person injuring you call Ross Law LLC at 503.224.1658.  Jeremiah Ross represents people that have been injured by the negligence of another and consumers.  Please note the information in this article is for informational purposes only and the law is constantly changing.  DO NOT SOLELY RELY ON THIS POST.  SPEAK WITH A LAWYER to fully understand your rights and obligations on medical debt. This post could be considered attorney advertising.