Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

PI Lawyer Who Settled Case After Client Died Faces Ethics Charge

Here’s some risk management advice for personal injury lawyers: think twice before making a demand for future pain and suffering on behalf of a client who died 10 months ago.

You might wind up having to face the State Bar on disciplinary charges.

That’s what happened to an attorney in Illinois, who was representing a client injured in an auto accident. The client died of unrelated causes. Ten months later, the attorney made a settlement demand for $245,000 for “future pain and physical limitations” and for injuries “which will likely result in significant arthritis.” The attorney knew of his client’s death when he made the demand but did not tell the other side, according to the ABA Journal.

When the case settled for $60,000, the attorney sent an email to his law firm that said, “Settled $60,000. Client is dead from unrelated cause. Settled without adj [adjuster] knowledge of death,” the ABA Journal reports.

On May 5, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against the attorney for alleged professional misconduct. The attorney no longer had authority to represent his client after his client died, the complaint alleges. Instead, the client’s family had to pursue the claim through the decedent’s estate.

Read the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission complaint here.

Read more about this case here and here.

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Takeaways from the Illinois Disciplinary Complaint

The disciplinary complaint alleges the attorney violated the following Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct:

  • Failing to abide by a client’s decision whether to accept an offer of settlement [because client was deceased], in violation of Rule 1.2(a);
  • Knowingly making a false statement of material fact or law to a third person, in violation of Rule 4.1(a);
  • Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010)


NC Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2

(a) Subject to paragraphs (c) and (d), a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer may take such action on behalf of the client as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation.

(1) A lawyer shall abide by a client’s decision whether to settle a matter. In a criminal case, the lawyer shall abide by the client’s decision, after consultation with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive jury trial and whether the client will testify.


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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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