January 26, 2009
Till Death Us Do Part
A Colorado hearing board found that an experienced personal injury attorney had violated ethical standards and imposed a six-month suspension, stayed in favor of six-months probation. The attorney was retained to pursue a claim for injuries that the client had sustained in an automobile accident. While the matter was pending, the client died. The attorney settled the matter with the defendant's insurer without disclosing the death, which the hearing board found to be material. Part of the settlement was $9,000 for pain and suffering, a claim that was extinguished under Colorado law with the client's death. Further, the attorney continued to press claims based on the deceased client's need for future treatment. When the insurer learned of the death from the client's brother, the lawyer falsely claimed he had only recently been advised of the demise.
The hearing board found that the lawyer had "acted dishonestly and deceitfully in his negotiations with [the insurer] but that the evidence failed to establish that he committed the felony of attempted theft.
The sanction was affirmed by the Colorado Supreme Court. (Mike Frisch)
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