I took a call worth sharing because the learning it provides serves as a good reminder about the perils that can arise from a failure to follow through. Here’s the short version of what transpired followed up by what I view as the key takeaways.
A long-term client reached out to his attorney to ask for a favor regarding the client’s daughter. While away on cruise vacation, the daughter had been struck in the face by a falling object that resulted in substantial damage to her teeth. Although the daughter was working with an insurance adjuster, the client would feel much better having his attorney look into the matter and the attorney agreed.
Shortly thereafter, the attorney was able to obtain an offer of $30,000. Of course, before any offer could be accepted, he needed to check-in with his client’s daughter. By way of an email, he let her know about the offer and reminded her that the total costs of all injury related dental work would need to be known before any offer could be accepted. He went on to tell her that once she had a final number, she could check back with him and he would let her know if the current offer was sufficient. With that accomplished, the attorney returned to his normal work routine.
After a year goes by without any contact from the daughter, the attorney’s phone rang. The long-term client was calling on behalf of his daughter who had just reached out to the insurance adjuster only to learn that the statute of limitations date had run on her claim so no recovery would be forthcoming. In light of this development, the daughter had immediately asked her dad to contact his attorney in order to have the problem fixed. This is when the attorney finally realized he had a problem because it was becoming clear that the daughter believed he was her attorney too. The call to me occurred shortly thereafter and its purpose was to discuss the ins and outs of trying to settle the likely forthcoming malpractice claim out of his own funds.
After the call ended, I was left wondering why this attorney never took the time to simply place a reminder in his calendar to contact his client’s daughter 60-90 days before the statute ran. He was certainly aware that a deadline was in play and following through with this one simple step could have prevented all of this from happening. Another important takeaway here is that an attorney never gets an accountability pass just because the representation is framed as a favor. One can’t casually look into a legal matter, pass along a little legal advice and expect there to be no fallout if something goes wrong later on. An attorney is either in or out. There really isn’t much of a middle ground here. And finally, never try to settle a potential malpractice claim on your own before reporting the matter to your malpractice carrier. While specific policy language will differ between insurers, insureds do have a contractual obligation to report all actual and potential claims. Just know that failing to do so can have serious repercussions down the road.