Rubin Trevino hired an attorney to sue Lee Siler and Saginaw County, for injuries Trevino suffered in an automobile accident with Siler (who was driving a truck while working for Saginaw County).
Trevino’s attorney urged him to settle the case for the amount awarded at mediation, $100,000. Trevino resisted, saying he wanted more information about his injuries, but if there was no change in his diagnosis, then the attorney could go ahead and settle for $100,000. After getting a second opinion from a doctor that did not change the status of his injuries, Trevino’s attorney and the attorney for Siler/Saginaw
County exchanged emails in which Trevino’s attorney agreed to settle the case for $100,000.
Trevino refused to sign the settlement agreement because, he claimed, he did not give complete permission to his attorney, and that even if he did, it was subject to other conditions that were verbally discussed with his attorney. Siler and Saginaw County sued to enforce the terms agreed upon by Trevino’s attorney.
Now, here’s where the kicker comes in. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Trevino’s attorney satisfied specific Michigan Court Rules regarding settlement of litigation, therefore Trevino is stuck with the settlement EVEN IF he never gave authority to his attorney to settle the suit. The Appeals Court said Trevino could sue his attorney for malpractice if he felt he was wronged.
Although this decision might seem unfair to clients, it actually makes sense. Here’s why:
There is a cardinal rule that a lawyer cannot contact an opposing client who is represented by a lawyer. Therefore, each attorney must rely on the representation of the other attorney as to what his client is thinking. So, if an attorney says he has the authority to settle, then other attorney must believe that; otherwise, negotiations would fall apart and a settlement would never be reached. And the client would always be able to say after the fact that he never gave his attorney authority to settle and would always be able to change his mind. Alternatively, if you found yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of being involved in a lawsuit, you would want to know that the other side couldn’t come back after a settlement was reached to renege on the deal because the opposing client changed his mind and claimed he didn’t approve of the settlement.
This case gives new meaning to the phrase “buyer beware”, especially when a person hires an attorney.
The only way to make sure you are 100% happy with your settlement is if you have complete faith and confidence that your attorney is doing what you want him or her to do; otherwise, you may end up with another lawsuit: a malpractice lawsuit claiming you could have been able to recover more damages if your attorney had not settled the case.
Questions on this case or how you work with your your attorney? Call me 248-455-6500 and or email me firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can talk.
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