New York Office
(518) 203-1036
Philidelphia Office
(215) 627-4201 
Massachusetts Office
(781) 652-9119

Blog & News

May 1, 2010

Ask the Attorney – May 2010

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 4:06 pm

It’s easy to blame lawyers for the glut of frivolous lawsuits that clog the calendars and dockets of judges in courtrooms across the nation.  That blame, however, would be misplaced.  My practice experience has taught me that the public is far more responsible for this crisis than the legal profession ever could be.  Think about it – lawyers act on what they are told by their clients.  And let’s not imagine that clients don’t lie to their lawyers because they do.  All the time.  If you want to fault lawyers (and I know you do) you can criticize them for not removing the cases from the Courts quickly after they find out that their lawsuit has no merits.  And, honestly, that’s not entirely their fault either. Once we attorneys take on a client’s representation and file a complaint on their behalf, removing yourself from the case can only be done with the Court’s permission. That means that a petition has to be drafted and filed with the Court and a hearing must be called so the Judge can hear evidence before granting the lawyer’s request to withdraw from the action.  And, of course, the lawyer is bound by attorney-client privilege or confidentiality which prevents the lawyer from disclosing  anything that he or she learned during the course of the representation he or she is looking to get out of.  The process can be a slow and tricky one to say the least.

All lawyers have been duped at one time or another, by a client who was particularly good at misrepresenting the truth.   I had a client a few years back who was involved in a car accident while travelling between two of her employers  work locations.  The client, who was driving a co-worker from one place to the other, claimed that she was hit in the rear while waiting for a light to change.  She claimed that immediately after the accident took place the car that hit her fled the scene.  She also claimed she was pushed into the car in front of her by the rear-end impact but the person in the car she hit advised that they had no auto insurance and they left the scene before the police could arrive to write up a report.

None of this is unusual, particularly for an inner-city auto accident.  But what was unusual is that my clients passenger wasn’t corroborating her story.   She described everything in the same way except that she described my client as responsible for the entire collision.  According to her passenger, my client was on her cell phone with an appointment calendar opened in front of her while she was driving at the time that she hit the rear of the vehicle in front of her.  The passenger did confirm that they were hit in the rear by a vehicle that later fled the scene.

So why did I take the case?  I had represented the client before so she got points from me as far as credibility was concerned.  And she told a very convincing story as to why the passenger was making her side of things up citing a long rivalry at work with the passenger looking to get her hands on my clients higher paying job.  It’s true, things were starting to smell a bit funny, but there wasn’t enough to flat out call my client a liar just yet so we proceeded with the case.  Which all seemed to be going well.  Depositions were taken, statements were given, papers had been filed and we got to the point where settlement should be discussed.

And it wasn’t.  The Defense Attorney just kept avoiding the issue.  So I got impatient after months of delay and I pushed him on the issue.  That’s when he disclosed to me that he had concerns about my clients educational background.  This was old news to me – the issue came up early on in the case and I had my client get a letter from the Dean of the school at the university she attended who verified that my client had graduated and earned a Masters Degree.  Now I was hearing that the Defense Attorney was not satisfied with the written proof I had supplied.  We exchanged words, I got off the phone and immediately pulled the Dean’s letter from my file.  And then I called the Dean.  The Dean was familiar with my client but not because she had graduated with a Masters Degree, but, rather, because she had worked in her office as an administrative assistant some years ago.  After checking my client’s academic record, I was advised by the Dean that she had never graduated from that university with any kind of a degree let alone a Masters Degree.  Her only academic involvement with the university was through one solitary class she had taken and dropped out of mid-semester.  Clearly, as an admin, she had access to the dean’s stationery which she had stolen and had been using to fabricate an educational background she simply never had.

Needless to say, that case was settled for a nominal fee (nuisance value as they refer to it in insurance circles) and I parted ways with that client for good.  Why did anyone pay out anything on this claim?  That’s easy – even liars are injured in car accidents.  The client’s problems with truthfulness didn’t change that there was an auto accident.  What it did do was make it hard to believe that a Judge or a Jury would ever believe her, making her chances of getting a suitable recovery for her damages virtually impossible.  And that is how it should be.

So remember – it’s not a good thing to lie to your lawyer.  And if you are and you haven’t been discovered yet, rest assured, you will be.  My experiences have proven that to be the case every time.  Next month, more interesting tales about the practice of law.

Comments (0)