The common fund doctrine serves to limit an insurance company’s recovery of insurance liens from a Plaintiff’s settlement. The common fund doctrine is an exception to the American rule on attorney’s fees. Typically, each party is responsible for their own attorney’s fees unless there is a statute or an agreement between the parties to the contrary. However, the common fund doctrine allows an attorney to collect a reasonable fee from a fund created through the attorney’s efforts. The rationale is to prevent the unjust enrichment of other parties, such as an insurance company, through the lawyer’s hard work, without paying their fair share.
Commonly, this doctrine is applied in cases involving car accidents, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents in which the plaintiff’s insurance company has paid for medical expenses for the plaintiff’s injuries and is seeking repayment from the at-fault defendant’s insurance company. For the common fund doctrine to apply, the attorney must create the fund through legal services, the subrogee or claimant must not have participated in bringing about the creation of the fund, and the subrogee received a benefit from the common fund. However, the doctrine will not apply when the subrogee expresses a prompt, clear, and unequivocal desire to pursue its own subrogation claim against the defendant’s insurance company.