I tend to be the kind of person that expects the best from others, but lately, so many of my clients have been telling me horror stories about their experiences with other Personal Injury Attorneys. True, Personal Injury Attorneys and especially Car Accident Attorneys do not have the best reputation for honesty. My father trained me thirty years ago to be honest and treat all the clients with the utmost respect. I find it shocking how few attorneys actually do this. That’s what prompted me to write this blog post, “Honest Personal Injury Attorney – is this an Oxymoron?” Are we like jumbo shrimp? Are so few of aware of the ethical rules and willing to follow them? I find it shocking how few personal injury attorneys are actually honest.
Last week a client brought in a release for me to notarize for him on a case he has with another lawyer, he asked me to look it over and notarize his signature. As an experienced Personal Injury Attorney, the first thing I noticed is that the release says, written out, ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS, and then, in parentheses, ($15,000.) It also had the wrong date of accident on it (so it probably wouldn’t have been accepted by the insurance company anyway.) But that wasn’t the worst thing about the situation.
The client told me that the attorney refused to give him a “breakdown” of the settlement. The settlement breakdown tells a client exactly how much they will be receiving, what the disbursements (out of pocket expenses) are on the case and what the attorney fee is. What kind of a personal injury attorney is this? The breakdown should look something like this:
AMOUNT OF SETTLEMENT $100,000
DISBURSEMENTS $1,000 (INDEX NUMBER $210, RJI $90, DEPOSITION TRANSCRIPTS $600, MEDICAL REPORTS $100)
ATTORNEYS FEE $33,333
CLIENT RECEIVES $66,667
Nobody should ever sign a release without knowing this! I called up the personal injury attorney and he said that he never gives a client a breakdown when they sign a release. What????? He said that he would do this AFTER he got the check and took his fee! What???? How can a person make an intelligent decision about whether or not to settle a case without a breakdown? This attorney also referred to this case as “settled,” and I corrected him. The case is not settled until the client signs a release. I told him that what he had was a settlement offer, not a settlement.
This client told me that when he asked (at my suggestion) for the breakdown, the attorney’s office told him that they were “too busy.” So, when I called, I told them that I was advising this client not to sign the release until he has a breakdown. So the guy says to me, (I couldn’t believe it,) that they couldn’t do it until Monday (see above, does that look very hard to do?) and that it “might not be to the penny.” I said that it must be “to the penny,” because the client has a right to know exactly how much money he will be receiving before he “releases his rights” on the case.
I received an even more distressing call from somebody who was referred to my office for advice. He said that he signed a release for $85,000 with his Personal Injury Attorney last September and had not received any money. He also never got a breakdown of how the $85,000 would be divided. He keeps calling up the personal injury attorney’s office and they tell him there are many liens (without specifying what the liens were, that would require a breakdown.) The last thing they told him, (which is what prompted him to call me,) was that he would be receiving nothing at all from the settlement due to “all the liens.” It’s true that liens can sometimes eat away at a client’s share of a settlement, but that is something they should be aware of BEFORE they sign a release! (The exception are public assistance, medicaid and medicare liens as the agencies will not provide a lien printout until after a case is settled, but these are never a large portion of a client’s share of a settlement.) I told him to call that lawyer’s office and demand a breakdown immediately. I will be following up to see if I can help, I am not charging the client anything for this service.
Another tactic often used by personal injury attorneys that are not honest, or at least not forthright, is to tell clients that their cases are “settled.” We are supposed to inform clients of settlement offers, and ask them whether or not they would like to accept them. Of course, it is our job to recommend an offer to settlement, but not to mislead clients about their right to refuse to accept a settlement. This policy often backfires on lawyer that are not honest with their clients, as the client might go for a consultation with another firm and substitute their representation.
Check back here to find out more ways to tell if your Personal Injury Attorney is Honest! We will continue to offer you tips and advice to keep you informed.
Here at Wittenstein & Wittenstein, we have been providing our clients with honest respectful service for sixty years. No tricks and no games. We want our clients to be informed and we take the time to make sure they understand everything about their case.
If you have any questions about ethical rules for attorneys or anything else, please feel free to call us at 718-261-8114 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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