Beware, Your Attorney May Be Bare
If you ever have to hire a lawyer, beware. The lawyer you hire is obligated to have insurance for his automobile to protect the public if he negligently causes an accident. But that same lawyer is not obligated to have insurance if he injures one of his clients through the negligent practice of law – what we call malpractice.
Bar Association and insurance industry officials have estimated that between 30% and 50% of all lawyers do not have insurance to protect their clients. These lawyers may or may not have sufficient individual assets to compensate a client whom they may have wronged. A client asserting a claim against a lawyer may then be left with no compensation for injuries caused by that lawyer.
The State of Oregon does require lawyers to maintain a minimal amount of malpractice insurance. Nebraska and Virginia require lawyers to disclose the amount of insurance they have, and that information is made available to the public through the state’s Bar Association. The Virginia web site with this information receives 1250 visits each month. Four jurisdictions, Alaska, New Hampshire, Ohio and South Dakota require lawyers to tell their clients whether or not they have malpractice insurance.
The American Bar Association has considered amending its model rules to provide for the disclosure to the client if the lawyer does not have malpractice insurance. The American Bar Association has more recently considered a rule requiring disclosure to the state. This information would then be available to the public only if they asked for it. Such action by the American Bar Association, although not binding on Connecticut law, may result in the judges of the court considering such a requirement here in Connecticut. Although I think Oregon has the better solution – requiring attorneys to have at least minimal protection for their clients – a disclosure rule is at least a step in the right direction.
There are some things that the public can do. All clients should ask their lawyers whether they have malpractice insurance and what the amount of that insurance is. Rest assured that the large corporate consumers of legal services ask that very question. If they do not have insurance, you should ask them why. It may be that they have been declined coverage because of prior claims by their clients, or it may simply be that they do not want to pay for the coverage. If they do have insurance, ask them what the limits of the insurance are. Although the amount needed may vary depending on the type of work being done, I would hope that lawyers would have a minimum of $1,000,000 of Malpractice Coverage. Ask your lawyer to protect your rights by being sure that they have insurance coverage. Rest assured they have insurance to cover themselves when they drive a car because the law requires it. You should expect them to have insurance to protect their clients because it is the right thing to do.
A lawyer does not have a right to practice law; it is a privilege. This privilege comes with many obligations. The obligations in Connecticut should include that the lawyer maintain malpractice insurance for the protection of their clients. We should expect our legislators to require insurance or evidence of financial responsibility from every professional – including lawyers. We should expect that the rules be changed to protect the public.
Bruce Stanger is an attorney with Stanger Stanfield Law a full service law firm in West Hartford Center. He represents businesses on a broad range of issues ranging from day- to-day issues of formation, acquisition, contracts, and buying or selling real estate, to more complex areas such as litigation. He also represents people with serious injuries resulting from professional malpractice and products liability. When he is not off cycling, sailing or enjoying time with his family, you can find him volunteering for a number of worthy causes, or working at the firm’s West Hartford office. He can be reached at 860-561-0651.