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Kravis v. Smith Marine

SEPTEMBER 6, 1973.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DANIEL A. ROBERTS, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied December 28, 1973.

In August 1966 Allen Kravis, his wife Doris, and their children, Karen six years of age and Mark four, were riding in a boat in a channel between two lakes in Lake County, Illinois. The boat, operated by Robert Frankenbush, was struck by a boat driven by a 14-year-old boy, Andrew Korpan. Mrs. Kravis and a child with whom she was pregnant died as a result of the collision. Mark was severely and permanently injured.

The controversy in this appeal is tangential to the litigation which ensued from the accident. In his need for legal assistance, Kravis either turned to a family friend and distant relative, Attorney Melvin J. Cole, or Cole volunteered to help him. In either event, extensive services were performed for Kravis who became the administrator of his wife's estate and the guardian of his son, and the controversy is over Cole's fee for those services. Specifically, this is an appeal by Kravis from a court order which determined the amount of the fee.

The legal services rendered Kravis fall into three stages: those performed by Cole alone, those done in conjunction with Attorney John P. Kennelly and those done in conjunction with Attorney Lawrence L. Kotin.

Cole personally handled all probate and insurance matters. He opened an estate for Doris Kravis and one for her unborn child, filed a petition for a successor trustee for shares of stock held by Doris for her children, secured letters of administration, filed inventories, arranged for the guardianship of Mark and rehabilitation assistance for him and obtained all necessary court orders. Kravis executed the relevant documents and accompanied Cole to court whenever his presence was required. Cole advanced court costs and bond premiums and paid the court reporters himself. He received no expense money from Kravis and asked for none as he expected to be reimbursed out of the recoveries anticipated in the wrongful death and personal injury cases from the defendants to whom he had mailed notices of attorney's lien in September 1966.

The personal injury case presented problems and Cole thought it would be advisable to retain the services of an attorney who specialized in that field of law. He and Kravis considered the names of five or six attorneys and settled on John Kennelly. Cole talked to Kennelly who said he would take the case; they agreed that Kennelly would receive one-third and Cole two-thirds of whatever fee was earned. Cole and Kravis conferred with Kennelly on October 1st and retained him. Kravis was not asked to sign a contract and no mention was made of fees. Kravis assumed that Kennelly's charge would be proper.

Kennelly and Cole filed a two-count complaint against Andrew Korpan and five other defendants; count one was for the death of Mrs. Kravis, count two was for the injuries to Mark. The complaint was amended to include William Farrar the owner of the boat driven by Korpan, and Frankenbush the operator of the boat in which the Kravis family was riding. A second complaint was filed for the death of the unborn son, which was later dismissed. The complaints and the amendment were signed by Cole and Kennelly as attorneys for Kravis. Kennelly sent interrogatories to Cole who discussed them with Kravis preliminary to his answering them. After a year and a half went by Kravis became restless and complained to Cole about the lack of progress. Cole related this to Kennelly and Kennelly submitted a written report to him which Cole turned over to Kravis. Later Kennelly decided to withdraw as counsel because he was limiting his practice to aviation accidents and could no longer give the case his personal attention. Cole tried to persuade him to stay and offered him one-half of the fee but Kennelly said he would not reconsider his decision to step out for less than two-thirds. Cole requested a personal meeting but it did not materialize and Kennelly was advised that Kravis was employing another attorney in his stead. Kennelly did not request compensation for the work he had done; he only asked reimbursement for his expenditures.

Kennelly formally withdrew in April 1968 and Lawrence Kotin (whom Cole recommended and Kennelly approved) was substituted for him. The substitution, signed by Kravis, was prepared by Cole. The arrangement was completed in Kotin's office where Kotin dictated the following contract in Kravis' presence:


May 13, 1968

I hereby employ LAWRENCE L. KOTIN and MELVIN J. COLE as my attorneys to represent me in a claim for damages against persons responsible for injuries sustained by my son, MARK, a minor, and for the death of my wife, DORIS, in a motor boat accident which occurred on August 30, 1966 in a channel on the chain of lakes near Fox Lake, in the State of Illinois. I agree to pay them the statutory fee, subject to the approval by the appropriate court, in connection with both claims and, in addition, thereto to reimburse my said attorneys for any and all costs incurred necessary to the prosecution and preparation of this said law suit or settlement.

Name Allen B. Kravis Administrator and Individually Address 8539 Springfield Ave. Skokie, Illinois 60076

We, LAWRENCE L. KOTIN and MELVIN J. COLE, agree to render services for the said statutory fee and to make no charges if no recovery is ...

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