Misuse of Clients Funds and Legal Malpractice
Phil hired Attorney
Misuse of Client Funds and Legal Malpractice – Lawyer Took Car Accident Settlement Money
Burns & Jain has represented many clients who inform that their prior attorney took their money, took their family’s money from an estate or trust, or overbilled. Those clients may have a legal malpractice case, or an overbilling case. Sometimes, the attorney essentially enters a business, or business relationship with the client and that can be malpractice because of a conflict of interest.
Client Funds Belong to the Client
The rules of conduct for lawyers in Massachusetts are clear. Especially in the instance when a client is a victim of someone’s negligence and she or he settles their personal injury case against their insurance company. Typically, the insurance company requires a “release”, or a release and settlement agreement. Your lawyer reviews the release, frequently negotiates some terms, and then recommends you sign. You should review the release with your lawyer, and understand its pertinent terms, before signing. The basic premise of the release is that you understand what you are releasing, you dismiss all claims, and you agree not to come back and sue against the person even if you later discover you need more medical treatment or discover that your injuries are permanent.
Next, the insurance company undertakes their due diligence regarding the release and legal requirement checking with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (for taxes or child support owed) and sends the settlement check to your attorney.
Once your attorney gets that check, she or he must deposit it into their Interest On Lawyers Trust Account. (By law, any interest on the monies in an IOLTA account go to Supreme Judicial Court sanctioned legal charities.) When you check clears, your lawyer must send you your share of the settlement monies.
What Happens When Your Lawyer Doesn’t Send You Your Share of the Settlement?
We had a client, “Phil”. He hired Attorney “Yates” to represent him after he suffered injuries in an automobile accident. The attorney secured an offer of the full insurance policy from the defendant’s insurance company. Phil signed a release and the insurance company sent Attorney Yates the money. However, Attorney Yates only gave Phill a small percentage of his share of the settlement monies. He stole from Phil.
Phil hired us. We secured a copy of the settlement check from the insurance company and reviewed it with Phil. Normally, the attorney has permission to sign his or her client’s name, however, we discovered that Attorney Yates had forged Phil’s name. Knowing that Attorney Yates was disbarred and had no malpractice insurance, we filed a claim against the bank for falsely honoring Phil’s forged signature. Six months after hiring us, Phil received the full amount of the settlement!
Tenaciousness of Attorney Burns In Resolving Misuse of Client Monies Case
Attorney Burns did not give up just because Attorney Yates was disbarred. He did not give up because there was no malpractice insurance. Attorney Burns did not give up because Attorney Yates would not respond to a 93A Consumer Protection Demand and requests for Phill’s file. He fought for his client and found a way for Phill to be fully compensated.