Three attorneys disbarred over allegedly excessive attorneys fees collected from Progressive settlements

By Michelle de Leon | Nov 25, 2016

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court disbarred three lawyers following what a court justice called acts of “greed” and “dereliction of duties” in handling a sizable insurance case.

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court disbarred three lawyers following what a court justice called acts of “greed” and “dereliction of duties” in handling a sizable insurance case.

Charles Kane, Harley Kane and Darin Lentner were disbarred from the practice of law in Florida by the Supreme Court for keeping millions from a settlement with an insurance company. The decision came after it was found that all three purportedly engaged in fraudulent acts related to the settlement obtained from the insurance cases they handled. In addition to this, they also allegedly committed several misconducts during the proceeding and even took advantage of their co-counsels in the said case. Charles Kane and Harley Kane were the father and son legal team of the Kane & Kane PA; while Lentner was part of the Watson and Lentner law firm.

"This is the worst case of greed and dereliction of duties of people admitted to the Florida Bar that I have seen," said Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente of the cases, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The issues started in March 2013 when the Florida Bar filed complaints against the three disbarred lawyers for violating Bar rules. One referee was appointed to investigate all the complaints as these were related and pertained to the same case. In his findings, the referee found proof of the violations earlier alleged against the Kanes and Lentner.

According to records, the three lawyers and their law firms launched a joint effort to pursue health care provider clients to file for personal injury protection (PIP) claims against Progressive Insurance Co. in 2001. Apart from the PIP claims, the law firms decided to pursue bad faith as a separate action against the insurance company. To address the bad faith claims, a separate specialized unit was formed by the lawyers, namely, attorneys Todd Stewart, Larry Stewart and William Hearon.

The two groups of lawyers had different sets of clients, but some PIP claims petitioners were also listed as bad faith plaintiffs. That is, not all the PIP clients filed a case against Progressive for bad faith.

For two years, the bad faith attorneys worked to seek justice for their clients. In 2004, Progressive indicated that the company was open to negotiate a settlement agreement with the bad faith attorneys. Throughout the negotiation, the insurance company made clear that the payment they would shell out for the bad faith cases would cover all the petitioners as well as the potential complaints of other clients who had not filed for a case under the same ground. In a nutshell, the settlement agreement would be a “universal” solution to all the bad faith cases and not just for the ones represented by the bad faith attorneys.

Later on, Progressive sought to modify the deal and also include the clients under the PIP lawsuits. Initially, no agreement was reached with the PIP and bad faith lawyers. However, the PIP attorneys eventually dropped the bad faith lawyers and pursued negotiations with the insurance company.

The PIP lawyers then successfully acquired the required number of releases to trigger the payments under the agreement with Progressive. In total, Kane & Kane received $5.25 million. From this amount, the firm paid its PIP clients $672,742 and deducted $433,202 in costs. The father and son legal team took $4,144,055 in attorney fees. Meanwhile, Watson & Lentner got $3,075,000. They paid their PIP clients with $361,470 and removed $190,736 in costs. Their total attorney fees amounted to $2,522,792. Upon receipt of the settlement money, the law firms discharged the bad faith attorneys and filed for a notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice for the bad faith claims.

The disbarment of Charles and Harley Kane were ordered to retroactively take effect from July 14, which was the date their suspension became effective. As for Lentner, his disbarment was made effective on June 22, which was also the same date for the commencement of his suspension.

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