SIOUX CITY -- A Hinton, Iowa, couple must pay a Sioux City lawyer more than $2.1 million for representing them in talks that resulted in a $7.5 million settlement with the city of Sioux City, a judge has ruled.
District Judge Nancy Whittenburg on Monday sustained Stan Munger's motion for summary judgment, ruling that his attorney fee contract with Chad and Rosanne Plante was "reasonable and valid" and he was entitled to receive 33 percent of the settlement the city paid to them to resolve claims from a bus crash that caused serious injuries to Chad Plante.
The Plantes had claimed that Munger's firm, Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, was seeking to collect an unreasonable fee and expenses and had sought to have the contract declared void an unenforceable.
"Obviously, we're really pleased with the court's decision," said Munger, who declined to comment further because of the potential for an appeal of the ruling. The case had been scheduled to go to trial next week in Woodbury County District Court.
Rosanne Plante did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The Plantes in August reached their settlement with the city over claims from a 2016 crash in which a city bus struck Chad Plante's vehicle at the intersection of Lewis Boulevard and Outer Drive.
Munger sued the Plantes in September, saying that the couple had breached their contract in which they agreed to a one-third contingency fee that would entitle his firm to receive a third of the gross settlement amount if their claims against the city were settled without filing a lawsuit. The settlement was reached through mediation.
Under terms of the agreement, Munger said, his firm was owed more than $2.5 million for its share of the settlement, plus fees and interest.
The Plantes had argued that Munger was entitled to only a fraction of that amount and authorized him to withdraw $380,000 from a trust account holding the settlement funds, exceeding the total of $37,353 that the firm had tallied for legal work.
In an answer to Munger's lawsuit, the Plantes' attorney said that the amounts the city paid were not covered under the fee agreement because the contract was void and unenforceable.
Whittenburg ruled otherwise, saying in her 11-page ruling that the attorney fee contract was reasonable and valid "at the time it was entered into, based on the skill and expertise brought to the table by Mr. Munger, as well as the risks and uncertainty involved in cases of this nature."
Whittenburg entered a judgment of $2,179,456 -- Munger's share of the settlement, minus the $380,000 the Plantes have already paid.
The $7.5 million settlement was one of the largest individual settlements in the city's history and was in addition to approximately $180,000 the city had paid the Plantes in January 2017 to cover out-of-pocket expenses, health insurance premiums, lost wages and other requested expenses.