Thursday, August 31, 2006

If you ever want to fly Mulholland Drive...

So this crossing guard got hit by a car while working for the Nassau County (that's where I live now!) Police Department and is now disabled and unable to work.

After the accident she sued, retaining the law firm of Mulholland, Minion & Roe, and the agreement was that they would get a contingency fee of one-third of any money she recovered. (That is often how it goes for plaintiffs bringing civil suits.)

Well, the law firm settled the claim against the Other Guy's insurance, which had a policy limit of $10,000. They urged Crossing Guard to accept the settlement, so she got a little more than $6000, after deducting attorneys' fees. Turns out, Crossing Guard had her own insurance through GEICO, and she had underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage that would have given her a $100,000 benefit. The condidtion was the insured must cooperate with GEICO and inform them and obtain their consent before any other settlement or release on a particular claim.

In Campagnola v. Mulholland, Minion & Roe she sues her lawyers for malpractice because she says they were negligent in handling her claim and not talking to GEICO. Now, the issue in my Contracts class, where we are studying the case, is about this malpractice suit. The question is not whether she wins. The court has affirmed that "the unique relationship between an attorney and client, foundedin principle upon the elements of trust and confidence..." blah blah blah...basically that her lawyers screwed up. The question is, does she get damages of $100,000, which is what she "lost" out on from GEICO, or does she get $66,000, which is what she would have ACTUALLY received because her attorneys would have received a one-third fee had they handled the claim.

The first court said the "hypothetical" fee was canceled out because she had to pay a NEW attorney to bring the malpractice suit. The appeals court affirmed, but because they felt she should receive the full $100,000 settlement amount since Mulholland & friends didn't perform the $100,000 service. We study the case in the highest court, the next level up on appeal. They affirm that she should get the full $100,000 because if she had learned of the "malpractice" during the case and fired them they wouldn't get a fee anyway. To me, all this begs the question:

Why didn't she read her own insurance policy?!

Seriously--why didn't she know she had underinsured/uninsured coverage? Why do people waste time hiring lawyers after a car accident? What do you think you've been paying your insurance company for all this time? I think the whole thing is a colossal waste and totally stupid. None of it would have happened if she had known she had $100,000 flat out coming to her, with no fees deducted.

So that's what I learned in law school today: read your auto insurance policy!

"If you ever want to fly
Mulholland Drive
Up in the sky
Stand on a cliff and look down there
Don't be scared, you are alive
You are alive..."

--- R.E.M., 'Electrolite'

1 comment:

NY 2005 Esq. said...

ahh reading your blog reminds me of how foolishly optimistic I was in my 1L days too. I graduated from another local NYC law school but almost went to Hofstra until I read their nasty financial aid package (loan repayment really blows by the way).

Check out when you get a chance. Lots of Hofstra Law threads on there.

Best of luck.