Some “settlement mill” injury lawyers do this all the time. But if you initially agreed to settle, but you change your mind, then you may still be bound by a settlement agreement if it’s ‘in writing’ and ‘subscribed’ by your lawyer
What happens if you have hired an injury lawyer and he settles your car accident case – even though you never gave permission to settle? This sadly happens all the time in Michigan and other states. If it happens to you, your lawyer may deserve to get sued for legal malpractice and have a grievance filed against him with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Board.
But what happens if your injury lawyer settles your car accident case after you initially agreed but change your mind?
You could still lose out by getting stuck with a settlement you don’t like or want.
But while you may lose, the car insurance company who insured the driver that caused your injuries from your car accident wins. They get exactly what they wanted out of the deal.
That’s because under Michigan law an automobile accident victim can still be bound by a settlement agreement – even one he no longer wants – if the agreement is “in writing” and “subscribed by” his attorney.
This is the hard lesson taught by the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in Trevino v. Siler, where the judges held that:
A motor vehicle accident victim – who no longer wanted to settle – was bound by a settlement agreement that complied with Michigan Court Rule (MCR) 2.507(G), i.e., it was “in writing” and “subscribed … by that party’s attorney.”
It’s not uncommon for automobile accident victims and their lawyers to see cases – and potential settlements – in different ways. As I’ve written about on my series on many of the large personal injury law firms that do heavy legal advertising, these law firms must “churn and burn” cases quickly because of the huge volume of cases the lawyers have and the need to feed their advertising. These lawyers can’t aggressively litigate cases so they try to settle them quickly – often for far less than they are worth – so they can move onto their other files. I’ve been contacted many times by people who are upset and say their lawyer pressured them to accept a lower settlement than they wanted. And I’ve been contacted by people who say their lawyer settled the case without their permission or consent.
Lessons on avoiding having your injury lawyer settle your auto case without your permission
The key is always communication with the client. When this happens, things always go easier. Clients should also have some idea of what their auto accident case is worth before serious settlement negotiations are started.
As Trevino shows, it’s crucial that an auto accident victim and his lawyer be thinking as one when it comes to settling.
Indeed, the best and least painful way to avoid the disaster that occurred in Trevino is the following:
Before overtures are made to settle, it’s imperative that any car accident injury victim and his lawyer be fully on the same page about settling the case and what a good and great injury settlement will be.
Change of mind about settling an injury case
In Trevino, the lawyer settled with his client’s permission. But the client then changed his mind.
With car accident victim Ruben Trevino’s permission, his lawyer contacted the defense lawyer to settle the case for the $100,000 case evaluation award, which Trevino had previously rejected.
The car accident settlement agreement was formalized via email and documents sent to Trevino’s attorney by the defense lawyer.
However, when asked to sign off, Trevino refused “[b]ecause [he] had some more testing [he had] to do and then I wanted to wait . . . for that testing to get over with and make sure everything was all right.”
The trial court granted a motion to enforce the settlement agreement against Trevino and the Court of Appeals agreed:
Defense counsel’s email to Trevino’s lawyer and his letter to defense counsel “confirming the settlement” “satisfied MCR 2.507’s requirement that the agreement was in writing and subscribed by the party’s attorney. … Accordingly, the agreement in this case complied with MCR 2.507(G) and was binding.”
Malpractice claim against your injury lawyer is the legal remedy when a lawyer settles without permission
In rejecting Trevino’s argument that “the agreement was not binding” because his lawyer didn’t have “permission to settle the case,” the court explained – after reasserting the agreement’s “binding” nature due to its compliance with MCR 2.507(G):
“If an attorney settles with a third party without authority to do so, the client’s remedy is to sue the attorney for professional malpractice.”