Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2018

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Court: Lawyers shouldn’t have gotten bigger award than brain-dead girl

The Nevada Supreme Court has cut in half the fees and costs of attorneys in a medical malpractice case in which the lawyers ended up with much more money than a brain-dead young girl they were representing.

The court upheld the decision that sliced the award for the two lawyers from $130,000 to $63,466 for Christopher Gellner and Dale Haley. Gellner was the attorney in the medical malpractice case, and Haley was designated as guardian ad litem.

Warren West's pregnant wife died during an emergency delivery procedure at University Medical Center in 2005, and the daughter was born with severe brain damage because of oxygen deprivation.

West hired Gellner for a medical malpractice suit. The parties reached a $238,000 settlement in July 2010 before going to trial. Under the settlement, Gellner sought $61,000 in fees and $48,187 in costs. Haley was to be allocated $20,100 to act as guardian ad litem.

Ashley, the daughter, was to receive $29,379, and $79,333 was to be allocated to Medicaid.

District Judge Michael Villani refused to approve the allocation. He decided that $95,200 would go to the brain-dead girl, with $63,466 to be split between the lawyers, and that $79,333 was to remain with Medicaid.

He objected because the fees and costs for the lawyers exceeded the amount going to the child.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Ron Parraguirre, said Villani had the authority to change the distribution of the $238,000. Judge Villani found that Gellner had limited experience as a medical malpractice attorney.

The court said, "In considering the complex nature of Ashley's claims, the District Court also highlighted Gellner's role in complicating the matter by noting the many amended motions, dismissals, and time-barred complaints resulting from attorney oversight."

The court also said Judge Villani "balanced Ashley's lifelong special needs and potential for a multimillion-dollar judgment against the proposed payment."

The Supreme Court sent the case back to District Court to decide how to divide the $63,466 between the two lawyers.

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