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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

Florida personal injury lawyers

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$1,000,000 settlement for legal malpractice

Attorneys are supposed to help their clients and protect their interests.  Like doctors, lawyers can make mistakes.  When they do, there can be serious consequences.

In one case, a young woman was an innocent victim of a serious truck crash.  A semi-tractor trailer had rear ended her on an interstate highway in Tennessee.  The crash caused serious injuries to this woman, requiring back surgery for herniated discs.

A Florida lawyer took the case because he knew the family. Instead of associating an attorney in Tennessee, and assuming the statute of limitations (time for filing a lawsuit) was the same in that state as in Florida, the attorney attempted to negotiate a settlement with the trucking company’s insurance carrier.

Unfortunately for the client, in Tennessee there is a one year statute of limitations.  Because he never checked on the Tennessee law, he assumed that the law was the same as in Florida, where people injured in car crashes have four years to file a lawsuit.  In fact, his notes indicated that there was a four year deadline.  This was a huge error.  In the meantime the statute of limitations expired and he as still trying to get the insurer to settle the case.  Of course without a lawsuit being filed, and the deadline to do so having passed, the insurance company was not going to pay anything for the negligence of their insured driver.

Despite the very serious injuries to this nice woman, she recovered nothing from the claim she had trusted to her lawyer.  He had mistakenly missed the statute of limitations in Tennessee and destroyed his client’s chances for a recovery.

This is what we call “legal malpractice.”

The client was referred to John Leighton at Leighton Law.  Mr. Leighton analyzed the case, reviewed the documents, and brought a lawsuit against the attorney for legal malpractice.  The prior attorney’s “defense” to the case was that he never agreed to represent the client until after the statute of limitations had already run, therefore there was no actual damage to the client.  In fact, he had been representing the client for months and had sent the insurance carrier letters claiming to represent her.  He had waited to send her a contract, which she had sent back before the statute of limitations expired. (In fact, the law does not require that a contract be entered into between the lawyer and client for there to be legal malpractice in many cases.) The firm aggressively pursued the litigation and proved that the lawyer did in fact represent the client, who had relied to her detriment on the advice and representation of the attorney.

After taking the deposition of the offending lawyer, Mr. Leighton recovered a legal malpractice settlement amount of $1 million, which was the policy limits insuring both the trucking company (which would have been recovered if the lawsuit had been timely filed) and the lawyer who committed legal malpractice.

This case is a classic example of an otherwise capable attorney taking on a case in a foreign state in which he is not licensed and being unfamiliar with the rules and statutes in that state.  This is the reason why courts require lawyers to be admitted to practice in any state in which a lawyer appears in court.  If it is an attorney from another state who is not properly admitted to practice there, there is a provision for a special admission known as pro hac vice, or admission just for that particular case. But it requires that there be a properly admitted lawyer who is also on the case and the lawyer must be familiar with the rules of procedures for that state.

In this example, the simple mistake of missing the statute of limitations cost the client her case against the trucking company and its driver.  Instead, the lawyer who blew her case had to sit in their shoes and pay a legal malpractice settlement amount equal to what she would have recovered had he not let her statute expire.

Fortunately for our client, she ultimately recovered what she would have received had her lawyer not committed legal malpractice.

 

Disclaimer: The information about past verdicts and settlements of the firm’s cases are based on the unique facts of each case. These amounts reflect the gross recovery in each case (before attorneys fees, expenses and medical costs are deducted). Although these results were obtained by our firm, they may not indicate the success or value of any other case. By clicking on Verdicts and Settlements you are acknowledging that each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. The information contained here has not been reviewed or approved by The Florida Bar.

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