A personal injury lawsuit fiasco of colossal proportions recently resulted
in an injured client being denied a major, much-needed, recovery, his
attorney being subjected to intensely negative peer criticism, and a time-honored,
ironclad rule - never wait until the last-minute to perform critical legal
tasks - being reinforced.
Consider the following. You are involved in an accident, you sustain personal
injuries, and a personal injury lawyer agrees that you have a solid basis
to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. The lawyer is then retained to represent
you, and guide you through the complicated morass of personal injury litigation.
Knowing that you are not trained in the law, you feel confident that your
experienced lawyer will be able to navigate the procedural issues which
are inherent in every personal injury lawsuit. As time goes by, you assume
that all is well, thinking that the guy you hired is on top of the situation.
Unfortunately for you, the guy you put your trust in, and allowed to handle
your personal injury lawsuit is an unorganized type, who likes the thrill
of doing things at the last-minute (One might ask, what is more fun and
exciting than rushing to accomplish an essential, critical, task, while
a case killing deadline looms?).
Also unfortunate, is the fact that prior to hiring him, you never knew
that your lawyer was the thrill seeking type, who believes in consistently
pushing the envelope by putting everything off until the absolute last
moment, allowing himself no margin for error. Had you been aware of this
facet of your lawyer's character, you certainly would not have hired
him to handle something as complex and important as a personal injury
lawsuit. He has procrastinated the filing of your personal injury lawsuit.
If your personal injury lawsuit is not filed soon, you will be barred
from bringing your claim.
Fortunately, even though your lawyer waited far too long to file, he still
has one day left to file your lawsuit before your claim is barred. All
he needs to do is get the required pleadings to the court clerk's
office, with a check for the filing fees. You think, how can he screw
that up? That seems simple enough. You also take solace in the fact that
even though your lawyer has waited until the absolute last-minute to file
your personal injury lawsuit, if he files by the end of the day, your
case will still be viable. He rushes to the court clerk's office and
files the personal injury lawsuit.
When he files your personal injury lawsuit, he incorrectly calculates the
filing fee, and provides a check for the wrong amount. His check is two
dollars less than is what is required, and before he learns of the mistake,
he is out of time to correct the issue. The next business day for the
court clerk's office is outside of the statute of limitations. A two
dollar deficiency seems trivial to you. As you think about the problem,
you conclude that the important thing is that at least Mr. Last Minute,
Esq., filed the pleadings on time. All he has to do is send a check for
two dollars more to correct the error. You think, this shouldn't be
No big deal, right? Wrong. At least that's what the Virginia Supreme
Court stated on January 30th, 2015, when they dismissed a personal injury
lawsuit valued at an estimated 2.5 million for being
two dollars short of the required filing fee. The Court explained that until filing
fees are paid in full, a lawsuit is not deemed filed. In other words,
because Mr. Last Minute, Esq., did not pay the correct amount of fees
until after the applicable statute of limitations (each case has a statute
of limitations which governs how long a person or entity has to file a
lawsuit) expired, his client is now forever barred from bringing his personal
injury lawsuit against the defendant who allegedly caused his injuries.
Of course, whether the client has a malpractice action against his lawyer
is entirely another matter. My guess is that the lawyer has already contacted
his malpractice carrier and has put them on notice of the virtual certainty
that he will be sued in the very near future.
Every experienced litigator knows that courts are extremely unforgiving
entities. They are not in the business or habit, of correcting lawyer
mistakes or negligence so that innocent clients can be made whole. Courts
apply deadlines with severity, and harshness, frequently costing people
dearly. The last thing someone who has been injured by another person's
negligence needs is to have their personal injury lawsuit botched by disorganized
counsel who waits until the last-minute to do essential work. When interviewing
lawyers to handle your personal injury case, pay attention to the level
of organization which exists in the office. Beyond the usual questions
pertaining to a lawyer’s qualifications, ask questions about calendaring
systems and other back up mechanisms that assist the firm in preventing
situations like the one which recently occurred in Virginia.
The last thing anyone wants is to be represented by a procrastinating lawyer
who injures their case through inaction. Do what you can to choose the
right counsel, and stay involved in your personal injury lawsuit. A good
lawyer will not mind taking your calls and keeping you abreast of developments
pertaining to your case.