The first federal Federal Rail Safety Act jury trial has resulted in an award of attorney fees based on the highest hourly rate in the history of the District Court. This Decision is important because it confirms that attorneys who successfully prosecute FRSA cases will receive top dollar compensation for all their time and efforts.
When a railroad loses a FRSA case, in addition to paying punitive damages, emotional distress, and economic losses, it also must pay the fees generated by the employee’s attorney. Such “fee-shifting” is a penalty designed to increase the incentive of railroads to stop retaliating while encouraging skilled lawyers to prosecute any violations of the law.
The focus of every fee award decision is on the qualifications and performance of the attorney requesting the fees. In the case of Barati v. Metro North Railroad, that attorney would be me. So self-effacement is not an option (or, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, “modesty flies out the door when attorney fees come innuendo”). Here is the federal judge’s explanation for why she ordered the highest hourly rate in the District:
Attorney Goetsch is undeniably a leading specialist in the law governing railroad employees’ rights, and his longstanding and highly developed practice makes him more efficient, creative, and effective for his railroad employee clients than an attorney of similar trial experience in federal litigation but without the benefits of his specialization. Based on Attorney Goetsch’s experience, his success in this unique case, and the case law evidencing a rise in the prevailing rate, the Court finds that an hourly rate of $525 for his work on this case is reasonable and fulfills the purpose of federal fee shifting statutes to incentivize capable attorneys to take on meritorious cases under the FRSA.
In arriving at the lodestar rate of $525, the Court took into account “Attorney Goetsch’s exceptional performance in being the first attorney to try a FRSA case to a successful verdict” and the fact that “Attorney Goetsch’s practice transcends his local market and competes on a nationwide basis.”
The Court refused to “apportion the requested fees between the FELA and FRSA claims” because “the plaintiff’s FELA and FRSA claims were inextricably intertwined in that they both relied on the same core facts relating to the circumstances of plaintiff’s injury and the railroad’s response to that injury.” Finally, the Court also stressed that “the language of the FRSA does not limit the recovery of expert witness fees in any way” and requires the payment of all the fees generated by an expert witness.
This Decision is a must read for anyone interested in claiming FRSA attorney fees or facing the prospect of paying them. Here is the full text of the Barati v. Metro North Railroad attorney fee award Decision. For more on the FRSA, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.