Question: I hired an attorney to handle a personal injury case. He called me one day and said he settled the case. I never gave him permission to settle the case and I don’t even know what he settled for. Can my attorney do this?
Robert’s Answer: The general answer is that your attorney cannot settle your case without your permission. The client does not work for the attorney. The attorney works for the client. So when the attorney negotiates a case, it is normally done verbally over the telephone with the adjuster. However, the attorney would usually tell the adjuster that he needs to talk to the client first and get an “okay” before he can definitively settle the case.
Furthermore, in order for the case to finally settle, the client will have to sign a full and final release agreement for the insurance company. Otherwise, the insurance company will not pay the settlement funds. Therefore, the client holds the key to finalizing the settlement by choosing to sign the final release agreement.
The client is entitled to know all the details of the settlement. The client should know the total amount of the settlement and also request to see a breakdown of how all the settlement funds are going to be disbursed. Most attorneys even have the client sign a written settlement breakdown so that there are no secrets about how the settlement funds are being paid.
It would be quite bold for an attorney to settle a case without the knowledge and consent of the client. Before I enter into settlement negotiations with the insurance company, I always talk to my client so that we are both on the same page about the anticipated settlement range. This way, I know if my client has reasonable expectations or if the client has unreasonably high hopes. If the client has high hopes, I have to make sure I bring my client down to earth before talking with the adjuster.