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01/22/98 THOMAS P. VALENTI v. LORRAINE SWANSON AND

January 22, 1998

THOMAS P. VALENTI, P.C., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LORRAINE SWANSON AND ARTHUR SWANSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 18th Judicial Circuit, Du Page County, Illinois. No. 96--AR--71. Honorable Richard A. Lucas, Judge, Presiding. This Opinion Substituted for Withdrawn Opinion of January 15, 1998, Previously

Present - Honorable Michael P. Mccuskey, Presiding Justice, Honorable Kent Slater, Justice, Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice. Justice Breslin delivered the opinion of the court. Mccuskey, P.j., and Slater, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Breslin

Justice BRESLIN delivered the opinion of the court:

[EDITOR'S NOTE: THE TEXT WITHIN THESE SYMBOLS [O>

In this case we are asked to rule that an attorney may not recover legal fees [O>in a common law action inquantum meruit if he fails to comply with the Personal Injury Representation Agreement Act (Act), 815 ILCS 640/0.01 et seq. (West 1996). We disagree that such a holding is required by Illinois law and thus affirm the trial court's judgment.

FACTS

The facts are relatively undisputed. On October 7, 1994, Lorraine and Arthur Swanson were involved in an automobile accident. Four days later, they hired Attorney Valenti to represent them on a contingent fee basis. Valenti did not provide the Swansons with a copy of the Act. About eight months later, the contingent fee agreement was terminated at the Swansons' request. The Swansons subsequently settled their personal injury claim. Valenti then filed suit against the Swansons seeking $8,475 (28.25 hours at $300 per hour) in damages under a quantum meruit theory. Following a hearing, the trial court awarded Valenti $3,150 (14 hours at $225 per hour) plus court costs. The Swansons appeal.

BACKGROUND

In Illinois, clients may discharge their attorney at any time, with or without cause. Warner v. Basten, 118 Ill. App. 2d 419, 255 N.E.2d 72 (1969). In the past, the discharged attorney was entitled to full contract fees if the dismissal was without cause. See Town of Mt. Vernon v. Patton, 94 Ill. 65 (1879); Warner, 118 Ill. App. 2d 419, 255 N.E.2d 72; Miller v. Solomon, 49 Ill. App. 2d 156, 199 N.E.2d 660 (1964). However, awarding full contract fees to a discharged attorney encouraged the unseemly practice of "ambulance chasing." Thus, in 1971 in an effort to curb such unsavory conduct, the legislature passed the Act. It provides that any agreement for representation in a personal injury case which is made within five days of the injury may be avoided by the injured party. 815 ILCS 640/1 (West 1996). One of the requirements is that the attorney provide the clients with a copy of the Act at the time the contingent fee agreement is entered into. 810 ILCS 640/1 (West 1996).

Subsequently, in 1979 our supreme court rejected the old rule that a discharged attorney is entitled to full contract fees if the dismissal was without cause. Rhoades v. Norfolk & Western Railway Co., 78 Ill. 2d 217, 399 N.E.2d 969, 35 Ill. Dec. 680 (1979). Instead, an attorney discharged without cause may only be entitled to recovery under [O>the common lawquantum meruit. Rhoades, 78 Ill. 2d at 230, 399 N.E.2d at 975. The Swansons argue that, regardless, the Act prohibits a noncomplying attorney from recovering not only under the representation agreement, but also [O>under atheory<>

ANALYSIS

[O>"The common law is a beautiful system; containing the wisdom and experience of ages." Penny v. Little, 4 Ill. 301, 304 (1841). It will not be deemed abrogated by statute unless it clearly appears that such was the legislative intent. Chu v. Bowers, 275 Ill. App. 3d 861, 656 N.E.2d 436, 212 Ill. Dec. 113 (1995).Belfield v. Coop, 8 Ill. 2d 293, 134 N.E.2d 249 (1956). In construing a statute, it is presumed that the legislature did not intend unjust, absurd or unreasonable consequences. People v. Wireman, 181 Ill. App. 3d 385, 536 N.E.2d 1346, 130 Ill. Dec. 135 (1989). The Act Provides:

"Any person who makes an agreement with any other person to represent him in his claim for settlement of a personal injury claim within 5 days after the occurrence which gave rise to the claim may, within a 10 day period after the occurrence elect to avoid the agreement by notifying the other person in writing of the election by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested.

The person undertaking the representation of the injured party by such an agreement must, at the time of the agreement, furnish the party with whom the agreement is made [with] a copy of the agreement and the address to which the notice may be sent and a copy of this Act, and obtain written acknowledgement of receipt of such from the party represented. If he fails to do so, the 10 day period provided for in this Act does not ...


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