I’ve been served!

We’ve all watched legal TC shows and seen the process server knock on the door and announce dramatically, “you’ve been served!” while thrusting a sheaf of paperwork at the defendant. I’m a family lawyer, so, like most attorneys, I know that I never want to sue or be sued. I know better than to “go to court.” (No one wins in court.)
But I HAVE been sued. Yes, I have. I had a gal come see me who’d been in her divorce case for over a year.  She finally fired her lawyer and retained me. After, I contacted the opposing counsel and asked, “Ron, I was reviewing Jane Doe’s file and I noticed that she didn’t have any correspondence in the file about any settlement offers. But her case is so simple, knowing you, I figured you’d have made an offer early on. Didn’t you?”
“Well, yes, of course, I did, Joryn. But I never heard back from her lawyer. So I dropped it.”
“Can you send me a copy of it, Ron?”
“Sure I can.” And he did.
I called my client into my office and sat her down. “Jane, have you ever seen this letter before?” She looked a little startled, but I could understand why. The letter was addressed to her former counsel and was over a year old. It was only a page long but she read it carefully. I waited. Then she read it again.
“No,” she replied, clearly confused.

I explained what had obviously happened; Ron had sent her lawyer an offer to settle and she had never sent it on to Jane. Which, by the way, was a violation of The Florida Bar rules, that require lawyers to communicate settlement offers to their clients.

Jane was appalled. I asked if she wanted to accept the offer, assuming that it was still available (which Ron had assured me that it was). “Oh, my, yes! I would have accepted it last year, had I known!”

I settled Jane’s case. But that’s not where this story ends. Soon thereafter, a process server showed up at my house at 7:00 pm and served me with a third party complaint! Apparently, Jane had sued her erstwhile attorney for legal malpractice (“she had negligently failed to send me the settlement letter”). The lawyer then sued me, alleging that it was my fault that Jane had never received the settlement offer from Ron.

Anybody can sue anyone for anything.

I had to notify my legal malpractice insurance carrier of the lawsuit. My rate jumped from $8,000/year to $18,000 per year. For the next five years. I filed an answer to the complaint, and never had to do another thing; both Jane and her former lawyer were well aware that I had had nothing to do with the lawyer’s failure to forward the settlement offer.

In fact, she had done it on purpose. She is one of those family lawyers who prefers that the litigation continue for as long as possible; that’s how she makes her money.

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