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What can I do if my current lawyer almost cheated me of my personal injury car accident settlement?

Garden Grove, CA |

About a month after the date of my car accident, my lawyer/attorney supposedly wrote a check for $600, payable to me, as an advance/loan, which would be deducted from my settlement once my personal injury case comes to close. The problem is I never requested an advance nor did I ever receive the check. The secretary explained to me that It turned out that a paralegal, who works at the firm, accepted the request from my father, gave my father the check, and my father "signed on my behalf." I found out about this check because I was told the insurance wrote out checks for my car accident settlement and I questioned my lawyer why $600 was being deducted. I feel the lawyer should have confirmed with me about a request for an advance and handed ME the check and not to anyone else.

I didn't know an advance was given out under my name, dated in 8/13/12, until yesterday when I received a call from atty saying that the insurance co. issued checks for my settlement (1/3 atty, 1/3 chiro, and 1/3 less $600 & $20 for filing fee..to me). The secretary followed up and said that $600 was an advance my dad requested, he signed on my behalf and it was ok because this was sort of a "Korean style" or way of doing business. The problem is not the $600 that I didn't receive (I never requested for an advance and so I care less where the check went). They can go after my father as they should do so to recover their loss which would have been 100% prevented had they made a simple confirmation call to me directly. If I didn't question the $600, I would have signed the settlement check and lose $600 and never know why I was being deducted. My atty who is supposed to look out for me and put me in his best interest, failed to do just that due to his carelessness and put my privacy in jeopardy.

Attorney Answers 9

Posted

Were you 18 when the atty was hired? If so, you are an adult. Your atty had no right to honor the request from your father. You can insist the atty give you the 600.00. The atty can then sue your father for the 600.00 Do you want that to happen? If you are a minor, and your father your guardian, then your father must acct for the money.

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Asker

Posted

I am an adult. My father has done things like forging my signature in the past and hence have not had much contact with him. I don't want and never needed an advance. I was furious when I found out my attorney sent out a check without my consent/confirmation to my father and never followed up. I don't feel this incident should just go unnoticed. The lawyer said the $600 won't be deducted from my settlement if my father did indeed sign the check and kept it for himself. I don't want to let the lawyer off the hook in regards to this situation. How do I deal with the lawyer? I don't trust him anymore.

Robert Bruce Kopelson

Robert Bruce Kopelson

Posted

It sounds like the lawyer is agreeing to replace the 600 he deducted. What evidence is he requesting that your father signed the check and you didnt get the money? If you have lost faith in atty, you can fire him and hire a new one. If he doesnt refund the money, you can make a complaint to the state bar. Your first post said they gave my father the check, and my father "signed on my behalf." Now you are saying that the atty sent out a check. Your facts seem inconsistent. Do you live with your father? Did they mail a check payable to you to the address you gave the atty as yours? You best have your facts and proof in order before taking action against the lawyer. You say your dad has forged your signature before, and you havent had much contact with him. If that is true, how did he know who your atty is?

Asker

Posted

There are two checks I'm talking about and I apologize for confusion. The check my attorney issued and my dad signed "on my behalf" is an advance my attorney gave my dad because my dad asked for it. They did NOT notify me nor did they confirm with me if it's ok that they lend out an advance with my name on it ...AND no matter who requested on my behalf, the check should have been sent to me, not my father. My father does not live with me. He and my mother had been divorced for many years; he has done things like this to me before (ruined my credit because he opened up credit cards under my name, forged fake checks, etc.). So, my dad met with a paralegal who was involved in the paperwork process for filing my auto accident case. He asked the paralegal for an advance from my settlement money, paralegal put in request to attorney saying I requested, lawyer wrote check out to my name and handed it to paralegal, paralegal gave the check to my dad. This is what I was told by a secretary who works at the firm. They knew my dad "signed on my behalf" as the secretary stated, and she added that this was a "Korean style" or way of dealing in business. She laughed it off, I was furious and felt like their way of practice was very wrong. The other check I'm talking about is my portion of the settlement. In California, as well as stated in the contract I signed, my attorney receives 1/3 of the settlement, I receive 1/3 of the settlement, and my chiropractor receives 1/3 of the settlement. So, I did not know my father had received and signed a check for an advance that was made out to me which was dated back in August of 2012. I found out about this yesterday, when I received a call from my attorney telling me that the insurance company wrote out three checks for my settlement.

Asker

Posted

And to answer your question about how my dad new my attorney... let me begin by saying my life "story" is quite complicated all thanks to my father. My father in the past, has forged my signatures, opened up credit cards under my name without my approval/consent, has gone to jail several times for it. I have gone through a lot with my father doing these things. I decided not to have anything to do with him; this was 10 years ago. I moved back home 1.5 years ago to help my mother. Then I was involved in an auto accident July 2012. My mom told my dad I was involved in an accident and that I was injured. I felt my dad was reaching out to me out of concern and he has helped in finding me an attorney for my accident (the paralegal that works for my attorney turned out to be a friend of my dad's friend). So, that is how my dad knows the paralegal, not my attorney. I did not even hear from my attorney until recently when talks of settlement surfaced. I have never even met my attorney. I only met with the paralegal to sign paper work.

Robert Bruce Kopelson

Robert Bruce Kopelson

Posted

No offense, but the Korean style referred to is not in my opinion, the proper way to conduct business. You can check with the state bar to see what it thinks about these practices. The atty is responsible for managing his staff. It is also unusual in my experience for an ins co to issue 3 separate checks like you describe. Id ask to see copies of all of them. While it can sometimes turn out that the settlement goes 1/3 for atty, one third for medical treatment, and 1/3 for client, I think it is suspect to have such an agreement in advance. Im not accusing anyone in this case of fraudulent/improper practices, but there are attys and chiropractors who do operate this way as a standard business practice. Sometimes they do include fraudulent /padded claims, or fraudulent records/billing. Ins cos generally know who these people are, and evaluate the claims differently (usually at less money) because of the atty or doctor involved. Good luck.

Asker

Posted

I told the paralegal that I knew of no such "Korean style" practice. I didn't know the chiropractor would receive 1/3 to cover for medical treatments. I thought that medical bills would be paid by insurance, the settlement would be given where 1/3 goes to lawyer. I regret not knowing what I signed on contracts for lawyer as well as chiro. I realized that Chiro plays with their numbers when it came to billing my treatments. Let's say med bills came out to be $7000...but according to 1/3 agreement, the Chiro would only get $4700...so, the atty said Chiro will have to discount the $7000 in bills and settle for lesser amount of $4700. I don't understand how this works out. Of the three checks, my check was the least amount. In the end, I would have gotten the short end of the stick because of a filing fee and the advance. So, for now, settlement is placed on hold because I want to address why the check was issued in my name in the first place. The paralegals are awful for what they concealed and did without my consent. Thank you for your input in this matter. I really just wanted to hear from different lawyers of their opinions/advice.

Posted

Unless your father brought the suit on your behalf because you were a minor, then absolutely not. I'm not sure about California, but in Connecticut, that practice also happens to be unethical and can result in an attorney suspension. Demand the $600 from the attorney.

This is general advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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Asker

Posted

I am 30 years old and do not live with father, do not wish to talk much to my father (except for the occasional Hi's and How are you's), and he has ruined my credit in the past. He weaseled his way to getting an advance in my settlement money by talking to the paralegal who works at the firm. I NEVER requested directly to my lawyer nor any of his colleagues that I needed/wanted a $600 advance. The secretary said that since I didn't receive the $600, they will deal with my father, and I will not be deducted $600 from my portion of the settlement for my personal injury/auto accident case. In my opinion, I do not want to let this go so easily. I feel they were not communicating with me very well, my privacy was breached, they were conducting business behind my back, and I would have lost $600 from my settlement had I not questioned why I was being deducted $600 from my settlement. I don't feel that simply not deducting money from my portion of the settlement check justifies or dismisses what happened. I never requested so I don't want $600 and I don't care if the money will not be deducted. I'm angry this was all done behind my back and wasn't told of anything since August 2012. They didn't explain well WHY i was being deducted $600 until I questioned. I'm very upset and feel I've been mishandled, cheated, and most importantly, my privacy has been taken from me. I blame my attorney because he enabled and allowed for someone (in this case being my father) to forge my signature. He should have contacted me about the advance, which I would have denied right away, but he didn't and was going to collect it at the end from me through my settlement. I want him in trouble for the frustration and anxiety it has caused me; can he be in trouble? Or am I making this a bigger deal than it is? For me, I have been a victim of fraud, and it's just hitting too close to home again for me. I don't want anyone enabling anyone to take advantage of someone, family related or not.

Tanya Marie Bachand

Tanya Marie Bachand

Posted

it IS a big deal, I would file a grievance against the attorney with the statewide grievance committee. Again, not sure about California's ethics rules, but here in Connecticut this is a grievable offense.

Andrew Lawrence Weitz

Andrew Lawrence Weitz

Posted

Your attorney had no right to even discuss your case with a third party, let alone loan money against a future recovery. In New York we are not allowed to act as a bank for a client by loaning money. I am not sure about California. Even if California attorneys re permitted to loan clients money, that didn't happen here. Your father is not the client, you are. I would certainly make a complaint to the grievance committee for your jurisdiction.

Posted

Ask your attorney NOT to deduct any money out of your settlement.

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Asker

Posted

The secretary informed me that I will not be deducted if my dad indeed did not give me the money after he "signed on my behalf." I'm very angry that I was out of the loop and that my lawyer did not communicate well with what was going on, what was being sent out. But, I feel the attorney should get in some trouble for putting my privacy on the line and allowing someone to receive a check that was written out to me and signing it on my behalf. Here in California, anyone signing a check that didn't belong to them IS ILLEGAL. But, the secretary brushed it off as it being a "Korean Style" in dealing with business. Is it worth taking legal action against my lawyer in this matter? Is there anything that can be done or am I making a big deal out of nothing?

David Ian Schoen

David Ian Schoen

Posted

No, it appears to have been improper. But if the secretary did it on her own, you should have a conversation with the attorney before you file a grievance and get a sense as to whether or not he regrets what happened and is going to refrain from doing similar things in the future or if he doesn't care, in which case file a complaint. It is not worth your time and effort to sue, unless you want to go after your father in small claims court, but I have a feeling that the situation is a lot more complicated than you have set forth.

David Ian Schoen

David Ian Schoen

Posted

A further comment I might add, is that in the states that I practice it would be an ehtical violation for an attorney to advance/loan money to a client in the first place. I doubt that CA is any different.

Asker

Posted

I don't know how much involvement the secretary had in this, but she was the one to inform me of what took place between my father, the paralegal, and the lawyer who wrote the check for an advance. I feel the $600 is a dispute between my attorney and my father. I have nothing to do with it because I never requested the money and I never received it nor was it to benefit me. What I guess I want to go after is how my attorney handled my case and how he was not communicating well with me. I'm not sure if you're able to read any of the comments other advisors wrote or my comments above, so I feel my information is sort of all over the place.

Posted

The answer to all of your questions depends on your age: if you are an adult (over 18) no one should be signing checks made out to you or taking any actions on your behalf without your consent. If you are a minor, your father can take actions on your behalf. However, you are not helpless in that case: state law requires that a judge approve the final disposition of your case, and if you have a problem with how the money was allocated, including that $600, you can raise it with the judge. Of course the best resolution is to work this issue out with your father and lawyer. I don't see how you say the lawyer cheated you when he gave the money to your father and your father supposedly (or should have) used it for your benefit. Your dispute might be your with your father, not the lawyer.

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Posted

I am 30 years old. My attorney failed to notify me about an advance from my settlement. Before you write a check, shouldn't you confirm with your client directly about the advance? Where it should be sent to? I didn't receive that type of communication whatsoever. The $600 dispute is and should be between my attorney and my father. I have nothing to do with it. The attorney didn't follow up with me about the advance and in the end, he was going to deduct it from my settlement. Had I not questioned what it was, I would have had a $600 loss. The insurance wrote out checks for my settlement which were to be dispersed to my attorney, chiropractor, and me...the amounts were divided according to contracted 1/3. The checks were ready and I was called to arrange for the check to be signed to finalize my settlement. I didn't have a good feeling about the $600 being deducted from my portion of the settlement. I thought the attorney was saying the $600 was some sort of fee for something I had to pay. It turned out that it wasn't.

David Lee Fiol

David Lee Fiol

Posted

Since you're an adult you have a right to be upset - I see no basis for your attorney deducting that $600 from the settlement.

Posted

Call the disciplinary board to resolve.

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Posted

In addition to the other attorneys responses about the inappropriate issuance of the check - Why not ask you Dad for the money back?

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Asker

Posted

I was told today by the firm's secretary that the money was given to my dad to "help him out." Unfortunately, they helped him by writing my name on the check and giving it to him. She claims that no one was to know of this because it was to help him out and I shouldn't have had anything on file about a $600 loan/advance. So, then, why was a check written out in the first place? Under my name? If it was a "gift" or loan to my dad, it should've been a cash offer to him to "help" him. Instead, the lawyer signed a check payable to me (without my knowledge), and deducted it from my settlement check and wanted me to sign the settlement check. I learned it is unethical and unlawful to loan out money to clients. So there shouldn't have been any advance given in the first place. I don't want to ask my father for the money because I never needed money nor requested an advance from my lawyer to give to my dad to give to me. I'm not going after money here.

Posted

It sounds like the attorney has agreed to restore the $600 to your account and disburse all funds payable to you. Note that you already received a full accounting -- no concealment or subterfuge. If the attorney is tendering all monies owed to you, then you have no remaining issue. Legal claims require more than "what if?"

The State Bar is not going to pull an attorney license on the basis of these facts, and there is no outstanding reimbursement or recompense that must be claimed by you. Yes, it was a close call. But nothing you have stated here supports any inference of attorney bad faith or fraudulent intent. Your grief is with your father -- not the attorney who cannot be held to know that you and he are at cross-purposes.

Handle your difficult family relationship as you choose.

No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

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Asker

Posted

No, I'm not in battle with my father. What he did has nothing to do with me and should not be. I was just informed from the secretary that they gave my father money to help him out of pity because my dad was begging for money. Whoever wrote out the check decided to write it out for $600, payable to ME, and give to my dad to sign on "my behalf" and take the money. Then, settlement distribution came...I was told $600 is deducted for an advance. If the lawyer, or whoever that has control over writing checks from the Firm, was helping my father out of pity (as the secretary said), why am I involved? Why was my name written on the check and not given to me since the check is for me? And in the end, why would I be deducted $600? If I didn't question, I would've been at a loss. "IF." Yes, I know legal claims require more than "what if." However, what about my privacy? What about forgery? What about the fact that check was written to me and I didn't sign it? The secretary and paralegal as well as the lawyer knew the money was for my dad (they said so). So, I feel restoring the $600 to my account is an act of covering up for their mistake and wrongdoing behind my back. They weren't going to restore anything because they asked when I can come in to sign the settlement check. Talks of restoring $600 came after I complained about it, questioning what it was. What do I do? Still, nothing I can do about it? Was I not wronged? Am I really making this a bigger deal than it is??

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

It is your decision whether to make a criminal complaint against your father. You know more about the nuances of that issue and potential remedy than anyone else. But as to whether you need to pursue -- civilly, criminally, or administratively -- the attorney who issued the check, my view is that you do not have a sound complaint against that person, based on what you have summarized as the facts. What you call "covering up a mistake" can also be seen as making good on an error once the error is revealed and conclusively determined to have been error. Tell me, what are the alternatives to making good on an error? Just what would it take to satisfy you?

Asker

Posted

"It is against the ethics and opinions of all state bar associations around the country for a lawyer to provide a cash advance for their client. If she decided to provide you with money before a case has settled with the understanding you would repay her the loan after the case has settled she violate this code. If she decided to give you an advance she could face disciplinary action leading to being disbarred. No lawyer will or can loan you money." I googled whether or not it is legal for a lawyer to give a client cash advance from settlement before case closes. It's illegal and unethical. The loan should have never been given out in the first place. So, by restoring $600 to my account, I should just forget what happened? What they (Lawyer and his team) did was wrong to loan out money, especially without even consulting with me ,THE CLIENT. What would satisfy me? I don't know consequences for lawyers who go against the law; however, I want him held responsible for (1) giving out a loan (2) giving out a loan without actually having discussed this with me in person or via phone (3) talking about my case to others without my permission (4) attempt to collect the cash advance by taking it out of my portion of the settlement.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

How about this: ignore my free opinion and do exactly what you choose! There is no purpose served in you arguing with me. You don't need my permission or agreement. Just do what you want and let the chips fall where they may! I like it!

Posted

Time to have a SERIOUS face to face meeting with your attorney

This is not intended to be legal advise or as legal representation. I am a California personal injury attorney . Be aware that every state has its own statute of limitations; and statutes & case laws that govern the handling of these matters.

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Posted

I tend to agree with the responding car accident attorneys. You need to have a face to face conversation with your attorney to go over your case and find out what is happening. Best of luck.

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