A call came in today that is one 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. A long-term client reached out to his attorney to ask for a favor. While away on cruise vacation, the client’s 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 if this attorney would look into the matter. The attorney agreed.
It wasn’t long before this 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. He composed an email that 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. 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.
A year goes by without any contact from the daughter and then 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.
It didn’t take long for the attorney to realize the SOL date had indeed run. This is when I was called. The attorney wanted to discuss the ins and outs of trying to settle out of his own funds what is now a likely malpractice claim because he could see that, in spite of the absence of a writing of some sort, this daughter believed he was her attorney too.
So, what is learning? The important reminder for me 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 advice and expect there to be no fallout if something goes wrong later on. An attorney is either in or out. There is no middle ground here.
I will also share that in this situation the attorney admitted to me he honestly couldn’t recall if he did or didn’t discuss the consequences of missing a statute of limitations date. Regardless, what I don’t understand is why this attorney didn’t place a reminder in his calendar to contact his client’s daughter 60-90 days before the statute ran. He certainly was aware of the deadline. Following through with this one simple step would have prevented all of this from happening.
Now for one final reminder, please never try to settle a potential malpractice claim on your own before reporting the matter to your malpractice carrier. While the specific policy language will differ between insurers, you do have a contractual obligation to report actual and potential claims. Failing to do so can have serious repercussions down the road.
Uh-oh, I see that a reminder has just popped up. Sorry, I’ve got to end it here. There’s a call I need to make.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.