Legal malpractice cases arising from personal injury cases
As we recently discussed, the 2015 ABA study put personal injury cases in first place once again as the practice area generating the most number of legal malpractice claims across the nation. There are many ways that a personal injury case can be compromised and can turn into legal malpractice case. Following are some of the signs to look for, if you are a personal injury claimant.
The most common source of legal malpractice claims in the personal injury context is a missed personal injury statute of limitation deadline. For personal injury claims in Georgia, this is generally two years. In other words, you have two years within which you must file a lawsuit. The most common legal malpractice case arising out of a personal injury cases is where the lawyer failed to file the case before the two years expired. Georgia law holds that a lawyer’s missing the statute of limitations deadline is “clear and palpable” legal malpractice. Note, an attorney missing the statute of limitations deadline does not necessarily mean that you automatically have a viable malpractice claim against your attorney, or that your claim has become more valuable through the lawyer’s mistake.
But beware! There may be other deadlines. Some of these include ante litem notices for counties (one year), and municipalities (six months). You should make sure that your lawyer knows who the correct defendants are. And, you should follow up with them to get copies of notice letters sent on your behalf. As the client, you should also make sure that you notify your own auto insurance company, if it’s a wreck case, that you intend to raise a UM claim. If you don’t know what UM insurance is, you need to examine your coverage, call your insurance agent, and buy as much coverage as you can afford!
Not enough attention from the lawyer
Are your telephone calls being handled only by a paralegal or secretary? Are you always told the lawyer is “in court,” “with another client,” or “on the other line”? Does the lawyer hardly ever respond to your e-mails? If this describes your situation, you have good cause to be concerned. Personal injury cases can sometimes be complicated. It takes a trained attorney to identify, and manage, the pitfalls. Paralegals, even experienced ones, are more likely to make mistakes. This is especially true if the practice is primarily managed by paralegals. For most of the heavy advertiser firms, this tends to be the case. Moreover, even though possibly experienced, paralegals and non-lawyer assistants cannot give legal advice. Only a licensed attorney should be answering questions about your case which require analysis of your case or interpretation of the law.
Lack of effective communication, or no communication at all
Following along the same lines as the lack of attention, is a lack of effective, understandable communication. Is your lawyer only talking to you when you call them? Do they seem uninterested in your case? Do they never have any concrete answer other than “I’m working on it”? This is potentially a bad sign, particularly as you get closer to a deadline, a deposition, a hearing, or trial. Many attorneys are very busy, and it is easy for a case to get lost in the shuffle. That is why attorneys start to rely more on paralegals in the first place. But you are the boss, the lawyer works for you, and you are in command of your case! Make sure the lawyer is communicating with you effectively so that you understand what’s going on with your case, and so that you can make informed decisions about issues in your case. And, also make sure that they are communicating with you in the way you prefer (phone, e-mail, letter).
Stay realistic about potential outcomes
Sometimes clients have unrealistic expectations about their case. But other times, these expectations are fueled by the lawyer or paralegal. Competition between lawyers for clients is tight, and lawyers or their staff often make unrealistic initial assessments of your case to entice you to hire their firm instead of the other firm down the street. For example, if you were in a minor car wreck and didn’t need to go to the hospital, and a lawyer (or paralegal) tells you your case is worth $100,000, you’re probably being lied to. By the same token, if you have $5,000 in medical bills and no permanent injury, and your car wasn’t totaled, your case isn’t very likely to be worth $50,000. Of course, there are exceptions to these general statements. But by and large, for the average personal injury case, these statements are accurate.
Interestingly, some potential clients who are upset with their lawyer and believe they have a legal malpractice claim actually find out that they still have a viable personal injury claim. Again, in the final analysis, you the client are the boss. You the client own your own case and your case file. As the client, you must be confident that your case is being handled zealously and competently. If you are not so confident, you have the absolute right to get a second opinion from another attorney. In addition to legal malpractice cases, Chandler & Moore Law handles serious personal injury and wrongful death claims. The Chandler & Moore attorneys are happy to talk about with you about your case confidentially.