Fed’l Underlying Longshoreman’s Act personal injury
Facts: Longshoreman was injured during the course of his employment and was able to collect compensation benefits through his employer. He then retained an attorney to bring a liability claim against the ship owners. The ship owners allegedly made two settlement offers of $70,000 and $90,000, which the attorney did not communicate to the client. The third party liability claim was subsequently lost, and the client brought this malpractice claim against the attorney claiming that he would have accepted the settlement offer had he been informed of it. The attorney was found to be liable for $12,000, and he appealed the verdict claiming that the settlement offers were too meager to be relayed.
Issue: Is a lawyer required to communicate all reasonable settlement offers?
Ruling: Yes. A lawyer has a duty to use a degree of skill, diligence, and judgment necessary to the practice of his profession and which others who are similarly situated ordinarily possess. “As part and parcel of this duty, a lawyer must keep his client seasonably appraised of relevant developments, including opportunities for settlement.” The court implies that an attorney might not have a duty to communicate offers only when they are “so divorced from a realistic appraisal of the merits,” and unresponsive to the upside and downside of the litigation.
Lesson: A lawyer has a duty to keep his client informed of relevant developments, including opportunities for settlement. Lawyers are obliged to promptly communicate to the client settlement offers and all matters that may be relevant to the client’s appreciation and understanding of the matter.