A Montgomery County judge has ruled that law firm Blue Bell Elliott Greenleaf is entitled to the full $11.3 million legal dismissal costs for a 17-year-old girl who was horribly burned in the 2014 North Philadelphia food truck explosion.
Zoila Santos, a former cook at La Parrillada Chapina food truck and one of 13 people killed or injured in the explosion, settled her case with U-Haul for $71 million in 2018.
It was part of one of the largest pre-trial settlements in Pennsylvania history, and the $11.3 million referral fee came out of it. Lawyers, or firms, receive fees for referring cases to other lawyers who do the work.
Attorney Richard DeMarco has engaged in a legal battle for what he claims is his share of the $11.3 million since 2018.
Judge Richard P. Haaz said in his Sept. 2 ruling that an email between Elliott Greenleaf and Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, a personal injury law company, was an enforceable contract and that DeMarco, a former attorney for Elliott Greenleaf, did not have a written agreement to be paid part of the removal costs.
Haaz wrote that at the time of the contract in 2014, DeMarco was a full-time employee at Elliott Greenleaf and “was not permitted to have a side practice and he agreed to devote his full-time efforts to the business”.
DeMarco, a zoning lawyer, signed Santos as a client after the explosion at Elliott Greenleaf. DeMarco said he held her back as a client when he moved to a new company and she didn’t want him excluded from the referral fee.
The referral fee agreement worked this way: Saltz Mongeluzzi and Bendesky worked for a 40% contingency fee if Santos settled or won at trial, while agreeing to pay 40% of that contingency fee as referral costs – which, due to the high settlement cost, amounted to $11.3 million.
Elliott Greenleaf’s attorney, Joseph Walsh, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
DeMarco’s attorney, George Bochetto, said Friday that DeMarco was seeking a new trial. Bochetto said the judge found the dismissal agreement was a contract based on an August 2014 contract email, although no lawyer told Santos about it until three months later in November.
Bochetto said Pennsylvania’s Rules of Professional Conduct state that clients of legal services “have the option of knowing who will share the legal costs in their personal injury case so they can object if they wish. “.