Failure to Appear in Court Could Cost Attorney $250,000

An Illinois attorney is being sued for his alleged failure to appear at a court hearing.  The plaintiff, Carrie McCurdy, was hit by a vehicle and decided to sue for damages.  She engaged the help of an Illinois lawyer who she was confident would take care of the matter.  However, McCurdy’s lawsuit against the drive was dismissed for want of prosecution which McCurdy blamed on the lawyer being absent at a hearing.  The lawyer, according to the suit papers, contacted McCurdy 5 months later to inform her that the case had been given to another attorney.  It took another month after that for the attorney to contact McCurdy again and let her know that the suit had been dismissed and the statute of limitations had expired.  Based on the delays and poor case handling, McCurdy says she can now no longer obtain damages from the driver at fault.

McCurdy promptly filed a lawyer’s malpractice claim against the attorneys.  The suit is seeking $250,000 in damages from the attorneys.  McCurdy feels that poor communication and the attorney mishandling the case led to her not receiving justice in the matter and the amount of the lawsuit represents that.

While the matter is still pending, the case outlines a few important lawyer’s risk management takeaways:

The first is to have consistent client communication.  Time and time again, lawsuits show us that clients that feel surprised, misled or confused are much more likely to sue than those clients that are kept informed.  Regular communication that makes clients aware of any updates, changes and progress is a beneficial habit to begin.

Secondly, a good diary system is needed when taking on any new engagement.  Key dates, deadlines, what needs to be filed and where it needs to be filed are all items that a good law firm practice management software can help with.  Keeping on top of these dates is a must.  Some firms may assign a second partner or an administrative staff to double-check that all deadlines are met.

Running a law firm with “best practices” not only keep clients happy, but they help prevent lawsuits.  As we have written in previous posts, the law firm insurance market is frothy and premiums are increasing.  Preventable mistakes like missing court dates or filing deadlines are leading to higher insurance costs.  Having strong internal practices will help keep costs down for a particular firm, however.

Contact us to further discuss way to mitigate risk at your firm through good internal control and lawyer’s malpractice insurance.