Your personal injury lawyer should always strive to get the best outcome for you, and has an ethical and moral responsibility to do so. This can sometimes mean recommending that you reject a settlement offer if it’s too low, even if it means a longer wait before you get paid. But sometimes, unethical lawyers will push clients to settle when they don’t want to, simply because they want to churn through their caseloads faster.
Our law firm principles are built on making sure that injury victims are always fully informed of their options and providing our professional recommendation on what we think is the best option for getting them the most compensation. We want our clients informed and involved in making decisions about resolving their cases.
However, settlement agreements cannot be taken back, even if you change your mind only 5 minutes after telling the at-fault party that you agree to it. Which is why it’s so important to make sure that settling is what you want to do and provides enough compensation for your injury-related expenses.
So can a lawyer accept a settlement on your behalf when you don’t want to, and is it still legally binding if they do? This blog discusses that very question.
Can My Lawyer Accept a Settlement Without My Permission in Georgia?
Unfortunately, yes. Even if you didn’t provide written or verbal agreement before your lawyer accepted the settlement, it’s still legally binding because your lawyer is considered to have the legal power to answer on your behalf. Settlement agreements made by your lawyer cannot be taken back. This is one very important reason to be careful about who you allow to handle your case. An out-of-town firm or a lawyer who no one you know has ever worked with or can recommend may be a mistake.
So while it can be unethical for a lawyer to accept a settlement without your permission, it is not illegal. However, if it happens, it may be worth consulting with another lawyer about whether you have a legitimate legal malpractice claim against the lawyer who handled your personal injury claim if you think your case was settled inappropriately.
Can My Lawyer Accept a Settlement Without My Permission in Alabama?
No, Alabama law does not allow lawyers to bind clients to a settlement without their prior agreement.
When a lawyer is presented with a settlement agreement from the at-fault party’s insurance, they need to not only tell their client what the offer is, but also explain what it means. So, for example, it’s not enough to just tell you the dollar amount, you should also know how much money you will take home after medical liens and lawyer fees are taken out of it, and your lawyer should explain whether and why or why not they think the offer is fair.
After that, the settlement should not be considered finalized and legally binding until the injury victim has signed the release and settlement documents themselves.
But unscrupulous lawyers might still try to accept a settlement you don’t want, so make sure you are upfront with your lawyer about what you want to do.
What to Do If You Disagree with Your Lawyer About Settling Vs. Going to Trial
If you disagree with the approach your lawyer is recommending, whether that’s settling when you’d rather go to trial or the other way around, make sure to be up front with your lawyer about your concerns and ask them to explain their reasoning. After talking, their approach may make more sense to you. Your lawyer may also make the decision to withdraw and ask you to find new legal representation if they strongly disagree with the course of action you want to take.
If you still disagree, there is nothing wrong with speaking to another lawyer and getting a second opinion, or even hiring a new, different lawyer if it comes to that. And if your current lawyer threatens you by demanding payment, your new lawyer can usually take care of the transition and any problems that arise.
What to Do If Your Lawyer Has Acted Unethically
A lawyer is supposed to be an advisor and an advocate, and any lawyer who acts against the best interests of their client has majorly violated their client’s trust and damaged their reputation. If you believe your lawyer has acted unethically or illegally, then you can file a complaint against the lawyer with the state bar association.
If the problem is that your lawyer accepted a settlement without your permission, make sure to inform the other party that you have NOT accepted their settlement despite what your lawyer told them, and that you have hired a new lawyer and they will need to direct all communication through them. Do not cash the check from the settlement, as this will be seen as accepting the settlement.
It may be possible to sue your lawyer for legal malpractice, but this can be very difficult since it’s not considered enough to simply be dissatisfied with the amount you received in compensation; you need to be able to clearly show that your lawyer mishandled or misrepresented your case.
Get a Lawyer You Can Trust
At the Law Offices of Gary Bruce, we know that the trust our clients place in us is our greatest strength, and we’d never do anything to sabotage that.
We’ve worked with many clients who came to us after speaking or working with another firm who felt uneasy about the advice their previous lawyer gave them or weren’t satisfied with the offer their previous lawyer was pressuring them to take. But we don’t work like that.
We will work to make sure that you will be fully informed of every step we take on your behalf at every step of the journey and we will never accept an offer without your explicit permission.