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Dallas v. Geico Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division IV

June 24, 2019

OLIVER DALE DALLAS, Plaintiff/Appellee,
v.
GEICO INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant/Appellee, and THE PAIN MANAGEMENT SOLUTION, PLLC, Claimant/Appellant, and STOVER PHYSICAL THERAPY, PC; OCOMS IMAGING, LLC and OLIVER A. CVITANIC, M.D., P.C., Claimants.

          Mandate Issued: 07/24/2019

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE RICHARD C. OGDEN, TRIAL JUDGE

          Chris Sloan, SLOAN LAW OFFICE, P.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellee

          R. Robyn Assaf, Alia Al-Assaf, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Claimant/Appellant

          Gerald F. Pignato, Benjamin M. McCaslin, PIGNATO, COOPER, KOLKER & ROBERSON, P.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for GEICO

          KEITH RAPP, JUDG

         ¶1 The defendant, The Pain Management Solution, PLLC (Pain Management), appeals a judgment adjudicating claims in an action brought by the plaintiff Oliver Dale Dallas (Dallas). The remaining defendants, except Geico Insurance Company (Geico), either did not object to the judgment or did not appear. [1] Geico provided the money which is the subject of this action. [2]

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Dallas alleged that he sustained injury as a passenger when his wife, the driver, applied the brakes to avoid a collision. The other vehicle left the scene and that driver has not been identified. Dallas received medical treatments from all of the medical provider defendants.

         ¶3 Dallas retained his attorney. The attorney pursued an uninsured motorist (UM) claim against Dallas's insurer, Geico. After negotiations, and without a lawsuit, the UM claim was settled for the sum of $60, 614.78. This sum was insufficient to pay the attorney fee and the medical providers' charges.

         ¶4 Dallas's attorney filed this action to adjudicate medical liens and claims and to apportion the fund. The petition set out the source of the funds and the statement that counsel and Dallas had a fifty percent contingency fee contract. Counsel endorsed "Attorney's Lien Claimed" on the petition. [3] The petition listed the medical providers and their claims and liens.

         ¶5 The trial court conducted a hearing. During the hearing, the trial court inquired of Dallas's attorney if he had a fifty percent, written fee contract, and counsel affirmed that he did have the contract. The trial court clearly accepted the statement without having the contract admitted into evidence. Counsel also explained that the reason for the amount of the contingency was due to the complex case circumstances of no collision, no other driver, and a criminal matter against Mrs. Dallas, which is apparently related to the traffic incident. [4]

         ¶6 During the course of the hearing, counsel for Pain Management offered into evidence a letter purporting to be a $52, 000.00 settlement offer from Geico. Dallas's attorney objected, and the trial court sustained the objection.

         ¶7 Dallas's attorney presented a proposed division of proceeds. The proposal awarded counsel the full attorney fee and costs and divided, proportionately, the balance among the participating medical claimants. Only Pain Management objected, and it now appeals. As briefed, Pain Management asserts error regarding evidentiary issues and error regarding whether Dallas's counsel has a lien and any legal right to priority.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶8 The principle issues in this case do not involve factual questions, but rather interpretations of statutes, rules and prior case law. Thus, the appeal presents questions of law which are reviewed de novo. Kluver v. Weatherford Hosp. Auth., 1993 OK 85, ¶ 14, 859 P.2d 1081, 1084. "Issues of law are reviewable by a de novo standard and an appellate court claims for itself plenary independent and non-deferential authority to reexamine a trial court's legal rulings." Id.

         ¶9 "[A] judgment will not be reversed based on a trial judge's ruling to admit or exclude evidence absent a clear abuse of discretion." Myers v. Missouri Pacific R.R., 2002 OK 60, ¶ 36, 52 P.3d 1014, 1032-33. "An abuse of discretion takes place when the decision is based on an erroneous interpretation of the law, on factual findings that are unsupported by proof, or represents an unreasonable judgment in weighing relevant factors." Oklahoma City Zoological Trust v. State ex rel. Public Employees Relations Bd., 2007 OK 21, ¶ 5, 158 P.3d 461, 463-64.

         ANALYSIS AND REVIEW

         A. Procedural Issues

         ¶10 The complaint about not requiring the written attorney contingent fee contract does not show error. The trial court specifically inquired and was told by the attorney that there is a contract. The trial court was satisfied as to its existence, and the critical point was the amount of the contingency. Pain Management has not demonstrated any abuse of discretion or absence of critical information for the trial court. Moreover, the Pain ...


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