NSW Supreme Court resolves settlement funds dispute

The dispute stemmed from a slip and fall incident in a Coles supermarket

NSW Supreme Court resolves settlement funds dispute

The NSW Supreme Court has issued orders affecting the distribution of a $650,000 settlement awarded to a client.

The settlement was the culmination of a personal injury claim following an incident where the client, Alice, slipped and fell in a Coles supermarket in Penrith. The case involved two legal proceedings related to the entitlements of two solicitor firms, GMP and Brydens, representing Alice at different times during her claim against Coles. The dispute arose over the distribution of the settlement funds, particularly regarding the solicitors' fees and statutory repayments to Medicare and Centrelink.

GMP, the first firm to represent Alice, claimed $288,267.66 for legal fees and expenses after ceasing to act for her. Following their departure, Alice engaged Brydens, who completed the settlement process. Brydens claimed $203,771.32 in costs, leading to a situation where the legal fees exceeded the remaining funds for Alice after statutory repayments.

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The NSW Supreme Court directed Coles’ solicitors, McCulloch & Buggy, to pay $526,850.53 into court, covering the settlement funds minus amounts due to Centrelink and Medicare. This order was made to resolve the impasse and meet statutory obligations. The judge dismissed both legal proceedings related to the solicitors' fees, with no costs orders made against any party, emphasising that each party should bear their own legal costs.

Alice contested both the settlement amount, which she deemed inadequate, and the quantum of legal fees charged by her solicitors. She sought a ruling that, of the money in court, 25% should go to the lawyers and 75% to her, out of which Centrelink and Medicare will be paid.

However, the court said, “This is not an occasion upon which the Court can or should embark on any consideration of whether the settlement figure was inadequate.” The court observed that the settlement was reached on the advice of experienced senior counsel. The court further explained that there is a consent judgment finally disposing of Alice’s claim on a final basis. It is also not within the jurisdiction of the Court to order that the proceeds of settlement be distributed on a random percentage basis, not according to law.

Ultimately the court noted that the settlement had been reached on the advice of experienced counsel and that the legal fees would be subject to formal assessment.


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