DINTER v. SEARS, ROEBUCK & CO.
278 N.J. Super. 521 (1995)
651 A.2d 1033
RIKI DINTER AND ELLIOTT DINTER, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
SEARS, ROEBUCK & COMPANY, DEFENDANT, AND BERTRAM SIEGEL, AND SIEGEL & SIEGEL, INTERVENORS-RESPONDENTS.
Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
Argued November 28, 1994.
Decided January 10, 1995.
Before Judges PETRELLA, HAVEY and BROCHIN.
Bennett J. Wasserman argued the cause for appellants.
Bertram Siegel argued the cause for respondents Bertram Siegel and Siegel & Siegel (Bertram Siegel, of counsel; Todd Siegel, on the brief).
Frank P. Addas appeared on behalf of defendant Sears, Roebuck & Company (Addas & Potenza, attorneys; Mr. Addas, on the briefs).
The opinion of the court was delivered by PETRELLA, P.J.A.D.
On this appeal we decide what is in essence a fee dispute between successive trial attorneys, arising from an order of the trial court allocating fees following disposition of a negligence case. After a no cause of action in the first trial, and a reversal and remand following an appeal, the second trial attorney settled the underlying negligence action. The trial judge, over objection, awarded intervenor-respondent Bertram Siegel and his law firm of Siegel & Siegel a $45,000 quantum meruit fee, and $7,656.68 as reimbursement of costs and disbursements made by the Siegel firm prior to and during the trial on behalf of plaintiffs Riki and Elliott Dinter.
This appeal has its origins in a slip and fall negligence case which Siegel tried to a no cause of action before a jury in 1990.1 The Dinters desired to appeal but Siegel would not proceed unless they forwarded the costs for appeal, particularly transcript costs,
despite Siegel's previous practice under the parties' contingent fee agreement of advancing costs at the trial level. The Dinters retained alternate counsel, appealed, and we reversed and remanded the case for another trial.2 The Dinters thereafter retained Bennett J. Wasserman as their trial attorney under a new contingent fee agreement with him. Sears settled with the Dinters for $850,000 before trial. Siegel then claimed entitlement to a portion of the $218,226.79 due Wasserman as fees under his contingent fee agreement with the Dinters.3
The Dinters argue the Siegel firm is not entitled to a fee or any portion of Wasserman's fee. They assert that their contingent fee agreement with Siegel ended upon entry of the adverse judgment or by mutual agreement when the Siegel firm refused to advance the funds for transcripts for an appeal and instructed the Dinters to obtain new attorneys. The Dinters essentially argue that a quantum meruit award cannot be sustained here, particularly when there was a valid contingent fee agreement in effect. In the alternative, they argue that the Siegel firm breached the retainer agreement and terminated it by refusing to proceed with the appeal, except on new terms, and by refusing to file a notice of appeal. Finally, they argue that the award of quantum meruit fees is contrary to public policy and New Jersey Court Rules.I.
The Dinters retained the Siegel firm in connection with Riki Dinter's slip and fall on November 30, 1987. Riki Dinter and
Siegel signed a pre-printed form contingent fee agreement4 containing the following language:
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