The death match is on! Hulk Hogan versus Morris “Sandy” Weinberg Jr. This grudge match is set for Florida with a $1.5 million purse.
Hogan (whose real name is Terry Bollea is suing his two former attorneys, Morris “Sandy” Weinberg Jr. and Lee Fugate, of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, for malpractice in their representation of him and his son Nick Bollea in his son’s 2007 car crash. In the accident, John Graziano, 24, suffered severe brain damage as a passenger in Bollea’s car. Nick Bollea was eventually sentenced to eight months for the crash which involved drag racing at 100 mph until he wrapped his yellow Toyota Supra around a palm tree. Alcohol was found in his bloodstream.
Hogan alleges that he found out later that Progressive was responsible for all necessary legal costs, but that Weinberg and Fugate never told him. Moreover, he alleges that, while charging him excessive fees, they never told him that Progressive attempted numerous times to communicate with him.
The Hulk says in the Complaint that “[i]t is common knowledge throughout the legal profession experienced in such matters, especially in the area of insurance defense litigation and personal injury law, that automobile insurance policies include the aforementioned duty to defend the insured, as well as any permissive user, should a civil suit arise or the possibility of a civil claim exist. . . Defendants made no effort to advise of this important fact. Defendants were further aware, or should have been, that Bollea had no experience in the area of insurance.”
Zuckerman Spaeder denies the allegations in a public statement, here. It stresses that “[t]he charges made by Terry Bollea are simply baseless. The Bollea’s came to Zuckerman Spaeder under very difficult circumstances. Both Terry Bollea and his son faced the threat of criminal prosecution and civil litigation. Zuckerman Spaeder, working with a co-counsel, achieved a very favorable result in the criminal case,”
The firm suggests a simple contractual defense, pointing out that “[w]e had a written agreement signed by Terry Bollea and [his son] Nick Bollea that laid out our rates, and on request, we provided written estimates of the time and costs we expected to incur. Mr. Bollea paid the bills and did not raise any complaints about our representation.”
Of course, this alone would not necessarily answer the malpractice question. Specifically, does a firm have a duty to point out that a client has an alternative to their representation (since Progressive is unlikely to pay full Zuckerman Spaeder fees)? It is an interesting legal ethics question.
He is the co-chair of the American Bar Association’s White Collar Crime Committee.
Below is the first pre-trial face off between the Hulk and Sandy “the Wrecking Ball” Weinberg:
For the exhibits in the case, click here.
For the complaint, click here.
19 thoughts on “Grudge Match: Hulk Hogan Sues Zuckerman Spaeder For Malpractice”
I am surprised any LEGAL entity or claiming to be such would see any loop holes around what this so called LEGAL FIRM did to Hulk Hogan AKA ( Terry Bollea ).
Insurance LAW is straight forward in this regard. The HULK was duped no two ways around it. Hulk’s insurer had a duty to defend ANY situation arising from the said incident.
Hulk was not notified of this by the Attorney’s who presented him a contract with fee’s attached. ( as is currently know ) If the argument becomes ” Progressive did in FACT notify him and HULK did not receive ( which obviously is the case)hence he did in fact seek legal council on his own, or if a defense is raised regarding as one poster stated ” he sought more coverage then what Progressive was going to be able to afford him” this is the only viable defense that may play a role in this show down.
On its FACE it appears with all intent the Hulks Attorney’s he contracted with to defend the Civil and Criminal aspect surrounding the incident knew the LAW , had a duty to inform HULK of such and did not.
I really hate to see the courts time wasted in this manner, sometimes as in this instance clear negligence is evident and to WASTE court time is ridiculous.
The two Attorney’s Hulk contracted with should be disbarred , fined ,sanctioned each and every remedy available, as they know the LAW and obscured this from their client.
Guilty as charged , case closed.
I would love to see something like this happen to a real douche bag like Kanye West.
Thanks Alan, but the rule you cite has no application by its own terms. The operative rules are ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct if adopted in California:
Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Preamble And Scope
PREAMBLE: A LAWYER’S RESPONSIBILITIES
 A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
 As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client’s legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications. As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system. As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealings with others. As an evaluator, a lawyer acts by examining a client’s legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others.
Rule 1.1 Competence
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Rule 2.1 Advisor
In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Rule 1.4 Communication
(a) A lawyer shall:
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
“everyone seems to want to stick it to the rich, whether they be celebrity or not.”
Turn about, my friend, is fair play. They do lots of sticking, too.
everyone seems to want to stick it to the rich, whether they be celebrity or not.
Likely a classic case of celebrity injustice committed to enhance fees. In the popular culture cliché we see the celebrity getting special treatment, but here the more typical case where the celebrity flushed with cash and no experience gets the fattened calf treatment –allegedly, of course.
That would be secondary authority in Florida. Primary would be State Law and Federal Law in that jurisdiction. Then you would go outside of your state if when there is no guidance in your own state to other states which is called secondary authority.
I listen to Bubba the Love Sponge on Sirius and Hogan was on last week discussing this briefly. Though this is from his personal statements on the show, Hogan said he never knew about that his options. Also, he apparently ended up paying around $3.5 million? in fees which seems quite excessive. His lawyer called in and mentioned some of this. Hogan also mentioned that when he told them that he could no longer continue to afford paying them they dropped him like a rock while giving a number of excuses. One of these was that they had some big case in New York and would be unavailable. Not long after that there was some case that cropped up in Tampa where Weinberg? rushed back to participate in that which indicated that Hogan was being lied to.
I dug around and found this article on The Cumis Doctrine.
Perhaps this might apply?
The UCC comes into play in a situation like this. Course of Performance; Course of Dealing; and Usage of Trade. I agree that is the way that they go. So, I think that in most cases the insurance company has a duty to defend once a claim is presented if they are in fact liable. Anybody handling defense for the Insurance Company knows that they pay way below market average. I think that the “Notoriety” that the Law Firm sought as such will be gained. Just not the kinda of fame that they were seeking. I hope that the Errors and Omissions Policy is paid or it looks like a personal action against them, the firm and each attorney appearing on behalf of the firm.
Now back to sleazy one of the dark dwarfs, the Insurance Company usually sends a letter to the Plaintiff. Or at least this has been my experience. So they may have some exposure as well.
It should be noted that the ethical obligation in question is imposed by Florida Bar Rule 4-1.8(j): “Representation of Insureds. When a lawyer undertakes the defense of an insured other than a governmental entity, at the expense of an insurance company, in regard to an action or claim for personal injury or for property damages, or for death or loss of services resulting from personal injuries based upon tortious conduct, including product liability claims, the Statement of Insured Client’s Rights shall be provided to the insured at the commencement of the representation. … STATEMENT OF INSURED CLIENT’S RIGHTS: An insurance company has selected a lawyer to defend a lawsuit or claim against you. …”
This rule contemplates that the attorney is hired from the onset by the insurance company, which is not what happened here. Its not clear this rule covers the situation of an attorney retained by the client, even when the insurance company later agrees to pay part of the fees.
put that way I agree.
Absent a valid waiver? They still breached their duty to the client. Part of the duty owed is to inform. If they failed to do so based on their bad assumption, an assumption as mespo correctly pointed out any lawyer who ever approached insurance defense work would know better, they still committed malpractice. Failure to met the fiduciary duty can be both knowingly and unknowingly breached. They don’t get a pass if they were ignorant of the law and broke it by accident any more than if they broke it on purpose. Consider if it was an element key to the case and not just related to fees. “Your honor, I assumed the client was aware of their Miranda rights and that they had been violated, but since she didn’t mention it, neither did I.” I think you see the problem.
I’ll have to say this smells nothing like an accident/mistake on their behalf. Smells a lot like greedy stupidity and perhaps them underestimating the intelligence of the Hulkster.
could not Zuckerman make the case that Hogan came to them and they assumed he had knowledge of his insurance policy and wanted more than what was allowed by his insurance provider?
“Of course, this alone would not necessarily answer the malpractice question. Specifically, does a firm have a duty to point out that a client has an alternative to their representation (since Progressive is unlikely to pay full Zuckerman Spaeder fees)? It is an interesting legal ethics question.”
In my opinion, if they [Zuckerman Spaeder LLP] were unaware of this basic obligation to defend found in every insurance policy on the planet, it is a problem. And if they knew about it as every first year insurance defense lawyer does, and failed to recognize that, as his fiduciary, they had the affirmative obligation to advise him of his rights and to insure that he knowingly waived them prior to their accepting the fees, they have a bigger problem. I see a settlement coming.
Having read the Complaint, I do see some issues there, primarily the alleged forgery of Hulk Hogan’s signature on Exhibit K, and the misrepresentations and non-disclosures that accompanied that.
Alan, a high fiber diet can work wonders. I kid. Or do I? But I taunt. Or do I? It’s good advice no matter what so let’s look to the matter at hand with the malpractice . . .
It’s a good case against these yahoos for not informing the Hulkster of the insurance company obligation in favor of their more lucrative personal contract. That’s not just the appearance of impropriety. That’s actually improper. They do have a duty to inform him of such a pertinent detail. As to the credulity of Hogan’s claim about learning of said insurance company obligation, might I offer this observation. I think this is credible for the simple reason you are dealing with a defendant, a wealthy man in the entertainment industry. He has “his people” take care of his day to day life and has for year. And his day job has jacksquat to do with either lawsuits, insurance coverage and/or fees. He probably gave the “car” insurance no greater thought than, “The car will be paid for.” What these guy’s did was a failure to disclose the insurance company’s obligation to pay fees at a lesser rate than what THEY wanted from a big piggy bank client like Bollea. So they committed fraud in inducement for the contract by creating an impression with Bollea that their contract was the norm by a lie of omission (and contrary to their expert knowledge) to their benefit and the detriment of Mr. Bollea.
Most people in the legal profession would consider that malpractice.
Once Hulk’s attorney gets these guys on the ropes, Rowdy Roddy Piper will sneak in from the wings, drop an elbow off the turnbuckle/jury box on one and break a chair over the other.
In all seriousness, the contract argument is a loser. Seven words will do them in – “expert knowledge”, “detrimental reliance” and “unequal bargaining position”.
The malpractice looks good thought. Pretty straight forward.
I think “embarrassment to the profession” gets thrown in for free. And if justice prevails, trouble for you two clowns with the Florida bar. I’m glad I know there’s a Mike A. offsetting the bad example you’ve just set for the Sunshine State.
Weenies. A contracts defense? Really?
If attorney ethical questions were answered by polling non-attorneys, then the answer to this “interesting legal ethics question” would be yes. But that’s not how it works. The legal profession invents its own ethics to serve its own interests, and these self-interests are balanced in favor of the client only when demanded by public controversy or a particularly sympathetic victim. Neither of these factors are present in this case, so the answer to this “interesting legal ethics question” will end up being no, i.e., Hulk Hogan will lose his malpractice suit. Conversely however, the definition of a “good case” is one in which the client has ample funds to pay the attorneys, so if you ask Hulk Hogan’s new attorneys whether he has a “good case”, they would answer with an emphatic yes. Such is the malleable and self-serving nature of attorney ethics. I wonder if Hulk Hogan will eventually sue his new attorneys for malpractice for failing to advise him that he is unlikely to prevail on his malpractice claims?
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