Daniel Brodie Howard suffered major injuries in an automobile accident while acting within the scope of his employment with Agra Tech, Inc. Hartford was Agra Tech, Inc.’s workers’ compensation carrier. He was hospitalized and in a coma. Thus the probate court appointed his brother, David Howard as conservator of his person and estate.
A civil tort action was filed against multiple parties to recover for the injuries. Hartford filed a complaint in intervention seeking to recover the workers’ compensation benefits it had paid as a result of conservatee’s accident.
In 2012, a WCJ found conservatee to be totally and permanently disabled and awarded permanent disability, medical care for life, and attorney fees.
On October 30, 2013, conservatee, Hartford, and Toyota, one of the tort defendants, signed a mediation agreement that called for Toyota to pay a specified sum to conservatee. In 2014, the probate court signed an order approving the compromise of the disputed claim against the other driver and Toyota and directed payments from the settlement proceeds for attorney fees and expenses, to Hartford (for medical and like expenses it had paid), and conservatee (for the balance of the settlement).
Numerous disputes arose between the parties over the distribution of funds, each of which were subsequently resolved.
Then, in 2016, conservatee filed a motion in the probate court to assess attorney fees, asking the probate court to order Hartford to “reimburse Conservatee $150,934.76 in costs and $179,605.48 in attorney’s fees as Hartford’s pro rata share of Conservatee’s costs and attorney’s fees in creating the Toyota settlement.” Conservatee stated the authority for the motion was labor code sections 3856, subdivision (b), and 3860, subdivision (e), and the “common fund” doctrine.
The probate court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider conservatee’s claims because the underlying civil case had been dismissed with prejudice upon conservatee’s request. The court of appeal agreed and affirmed the order in the unpublished case of Conservatorship of Howard.
Conservatee’s motion to assess attorney fees did not revive the civil action or overcome the effect of the voluntary dismissal of that action. Upon dismissal of the civil action, the probate court no longer had jurisdiction to enter any further order distributing the settlement proceeds from the civil action.