Wednesday, March 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Attorney Fired by Client Lacks Valid Claim for Fees

(CN) - An attorney who brought in more experienced help on a personal injury case lost his rights to his fees when the client fired him, a California appeals court ruled.

Kathleen Klawitter hired Christopher J. Olsen to represent her after she suffered injuries on a golf course.

Olsen enlisted the help of the more experienced Joseph F. Harbison III to assist him on the case in exchange for 60 percent of the attorney fee.

Klawitter soon fired Olsen, however, in favor of Harbison, and the case settled for $775,000.

Olsen sued Harbison for fraud and interference with a contractual relationship. The trial court ruled in favor of Harbison, and Justice Harry Hull of the Sacramento-based third district appeals court agreed, ruling that Harbison is protected by the litigation privilege.

"The breadth of the litigation privilege cannot be understated. It immunizes defendants from virtually any tort liability (including claims for fraud), with the sole exception of causes of action for malicious prosecution," Hull wrote (parentheses in original).

He added: "Once Klawitter fired plaintiff as her attorney, the contract between them ceased to exist. When the Klawitter-plaintiff contract ceased to exist, the fee-sharing agreement between plaintiff and defendant, premised on that agreement, also ceased to exist."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.