A lawyer may not settle your case without your consent. More specifically, he may not accept a settlement without your permission. And, he may not reject a settlement without your permission. If a settlement offer is made, your lawyer has an obligation to promptly communicate the details to you.
Under no circumstances may an attorney settle a case until you authorize it.
You may authorize your attorney to accept a specific settlement amount, or “any amount greater than X.” For example, you can tell your lawyer, “I won’t accept anything less than X.” You have my permission to ask for this amount or that amount. Try to get me as much as possible, but don’t settle unless they offer you at least X.” In such a case, your lawyer would be authorized to settle for X or any amount greater than X. He should still communicate with you about every offer that has been made.
If an attorney accepts a settlement on your behalf without your consent, his conduct is both unethical and negligent. Assuming that further negotiations or strategic positioning, or a trial, would have resulted in a better result, you would have a claim against your lawyer for his negligence (his malpractice) in not communicating with you about the settlement offer. You would have malpractice claim for your lawyer’s failure to have obtained your rejection of the offer.
Forced to Accept a Settlement
You may have the same rights against your attorney even if you were coerced to take a settlement. If you were pressured to take a settlement that simply wasn’t fair, you may have a claim for malpractice.
You cannot sue your attorney simply because you’re having second thoughts about the amount of your settlement. However, if the facts of your particular situation suggest that you were placed under duress, or otherwise misled or pressured in some way that forced you to accept a settlement, then you may be able to make a claim against your lawyer or his or her law firm. The analysis will be extremely fact-sensitive, and the burden of proof will be on you to establish how you were coerced or pressured into accepting a settlement.
If a settlement was extremely low – in other words, if a lawyer under-settled your case – you may be able to raise a claim for malpractice as well, if you can establish that you were forced to accept the settlement without thoroughly exploring other alternatives.
The Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick pursues negligent law firms and lawyers who commit legal malpractice. If you have been a victim of a mishandled legal claim, please feel free to contact our office for a free evaluation of your case at 1-866-337-2900.