May 31, 2007

Unprofessional Conduct

Today took me back to Stinking Bakersfield for a case involving not a huge amount of money. My big concern on this case has always been to keep my work at a minimum so that my clients actually gain money for their claims. So I've not done a lot of work and basically I've been biding my time until the mediation, which was today.

The mediation went about as well as these sorts of things normally do. The mediator was competent and friendly and we had some issues to work through, but we did it. Everyone got to a number and the numbers added up and I began to prepare releases and agreements.

That was when I found out that an attorney was there without a client or client representative with authority to sign an agreement at all. As soon as it came to be time to sign, he told the mediator, "I've gotta go," and left without being excused. Then, another defendant started to renege on his deal, and the whole thing looked like it was descending into chaos.

I'm pretty sure we've got deals all around now; I've got signatures on two of the three defendants, and the other one is a big company with competent attorneys -- aside from this guy who obviously doesn't know what the deal is. Had I known there was no one there with authority to sign... Well, I'd probably have proceeded, but I'd have insisted on some sort of way of getting a signature. For instance, his adjuster back on the East Coast could have signed something by fax.

I called a couple of lawyer buddies, and they both agreed that the way to play it is to just treat the thing like a done deal, as if we'd informally settled the case on a phone call. My problem is that parties often want to renege on deals shortly after mediation, and insurance adjusters and risk management agents are no different from anyone else in that respect. Right now, I lack any ability to memorialize or enforce my deal -- which is okay, in one respect, in that I haven't promised in writing to give this defendant a release yet, either, but it's not okay in that I wanted to settle the case to get my clients their money. So on the whole, I'm quite peeved about this guy's unprofessional conduct.

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