A Texas lawyer is learning the hard way what just a missed deadline can mean… a deadline missed by a mere 41 minutes! Because their lawyer was just a few minutes late in accepting a $250,000 settlement offer, a trucking company says they are now on the hook for a $7 million judgment. They claim they are on the verge of going under and are suing their former lawyer for legal malpractice.
The lawyer who missed the deadline is no ordinary lawyer, he is Levi McCathern II, the lawyer for the Dallas Cowboys and widely known and respected throughout Texas. Fame and a good reputation isn’t enough to save any lawyer from a missed deadline, however.
The facts leading up to this tragedy began years ago. In 2007, a truck driver working for West Star Transportation fell of a rig and suffered a traumatic brain injury. A witness said he lost his footing while trying to secure a load and fell backwards. The driver’s head hit the pavement causing permanent and serious injuries.
The company claims that the driver wasn’t working at the time of the fall. The driver claimed that the company had inadequate safety equipment. When the parties couldn’t agree on who was at fault, the driver sued.
Like most businesses, West Star Transportation had insurance. They asked their insurance carrier, Lexington Insurance, to defend the lawsuit.
Lexington Insurance hired Levi McCathern to defend the trucking company in the lawsuit.
As the case proceeded, the driver’s lawyer offered to settle the case for $250,000. The offer was only open for a limited time period and had to be accepted in writing. McCathern, acting on behalf of West Star and Lexington Insurance, accepted the offer. By telephone.
When McCathern realized that the offer had to be accepted in writing he did so but was 41 minutes late!
That may not sound like much but by then, the driver decided he didn’t want to settle. Instead he decided to roll the dice and go to trial. The driver won the lawsuit. A Lubbock, Texas jury awarded him $5.5 million in 2012. With interest, the amount owed today is over $7 million.
The insurance company appealed the jury verdict but in 2016, a three-judge appeals panel upheld the jury award.
Now facing $7 million in damages, West Star sued their former lawyer, Levi McCathern. They claim the case should have been settled for $250,000. Under their insurance policy, they would not have been on the hook for any more than their deductible.
Now a defendant in a legal malpractice lawsuit, McCathern had to hire a lawyer to defend the claim. According to the Dallas Morning News, McCathern’s lawyer is trying to blame the driver! “The underlying lawsuit arises from plaintiff’s lawyers who wanted to turn a roughly $250,000 molehill into a multi-million dollar mountain by quibbling over a settlement acceptance letter that they claimed was 41 minutes late.”
It is not just the West Star Transportation who is upset with McCathern. Lexington Insurance isn’t too happy with him either. They also filed a lawsuit claiming they had told him to “unconditionally” accept the $250,000 settlement offer.
The real victim here, of course, is the driver. 11 years after the accident he has yet to be paid and must live in assisted living facility because of his injuries.
When a lawyer misses a deadline – even if the deadline is missed only by a few minutes – no one wins.
In this case the driver has yet to be paid. The trucking company is on the hook for $7 million and is about to go under. They say the case could have been settled for $250,000. The insurance company is upset as they might still be liable depending on how their lawsuit turns out.
And the lawyer? Levi McCathern’s name has been dragged through the mud. Because of the lawsuit against him by West Star, he has filed for bankruptcy protection.
Missed Deadlines – A Lawyer’s Worst Nightmare
For lawyers, deadlines mean everything. When is the last date this lawsuit can be filed? How long do I have to file an answer on behalf of my client? How much time do we have to appeal?
There is a reason deadlines are so important. In the practice of law, a missed deadline means everything. A missed deadline often means the client’s lawsuit is dismissed. If the client is the defendant in a case, it often leads to their answer being suppressed meaning they lose by default.
Missed deadlines almost always mean malpractice. And they are always inexcusable.
If you have been hurt because of a missed deadline, you probably have a case against your lawyer for legal malpractice.
Missed Deadlines vs. Hiding / Failure to Disclose a Missed Deadline
As noted above, missing a deadline can put the lawyer on the hook for your damages. Depending on what type of deadline was missed, those damages can be huge. It doesn’t matter if the lawyer was simply too busy, made an honest mistake or was negligent.
Fortunately, most lawyers have malpractice insurance. The lawyer’s malpractice insurance covers mistakes by lawyers.
When a lawyer intentionally hides her mistake or lies about, then the lawyer may be subject to disciplinary action. Missing a deadline can get a lawyer sued. Hiding the missed deadline can get the lawyer disbarred. Under some malpractice policies, deliberate misconduct can also void the lawyer’s malpractice insurance leaving both the lawyer and his client even more exposed.
What Should You Do if Your Lawyer Misses a Deadline
Earlier in this post we said that most missed deadlines constitute legal malpractice. There are no damages, however, if the lawyer is able to fix the mistake. Some judges will allow a lawyer to claim “excusable neglect” and fix a late filing. Not always, however.
The time to file legal malpractice claims can be very short. In many states, clients have just one or two years to take action. Other states give clients six years. The law varies from state to state.
If you discover your lawyer has a missed deadline, don’t wait too long before seeking a qualified legal malpractice lawyer. A few dishonest lawyers will string you along telling you that they are “fixing” their mistake. By the time they tell you they were unsuccessful, however, it may be too late to sue the lawyer!
Your first step when you suspect that your lawyer missed a deadline is to speak with an experienced legal malpractice attorney. Our legal malpractice team and our network of partners throughout the United States are standing by to help you. For more information, please visit our legal malpractice information page.
Want to know if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 877-858-8018. All inquiries are protected by the attorney client privilege and kept confidential. There is never a charge for a consultation and our services are often available on a contingent (“success”) fee basis.