Go Ahead, Encourage Your Client to Accept a Good Settlement

John Cu
August 14, 2014

Moua v. Pittullo, Howington, Barker, Abernathy, LLP (2014) Cal.App.4th
[summary judgment affirmed in case where client did not follow attorney’s settlement advice]

Plaintiff rejected a settlement offer from her former spouse in a family law case, after her lawyers (Pittullo) had “strongly” and repeatedly advised her to take the settlement due to low chances of her prevailing.

Despite her lawyer’s advice, the client instructed her lawyers to stop working on the settlement agreement, eventually fired them, and hired other counsel. Her new counsel also strongly urged her to take the settlement, which she nonetheless rejected. Her former spouse filed a motion to dismiss her 4th Amended pleading, which was granted. The plaintiff lost out on a $605,000 settlement, and received nothing.

The client sued the Pittullo firm for legal malpractice. Pittullo filed an MSJ wherein they argued that there was no proximate causal connection between the alleged breach of their duty of care and client’s injury due to the fact that client’s case was taken over by new counsel prior to the conclusion of the matter. The trial court granted Pittullo’s MSJ. While the trial court agreed with Pittullo’s argument re proximate causation, the court also added that there was no triable issue of material fact as to causation because Pittullo recommended that client accept the offer and client, on her own, declined to accept it. The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment, dismissing the legal malpractice case. The appellate court stated that “[client’s] ultimate decision not to settle, in spite of her attorneys’ advice that she do so, was hers alone, and the consequences of that decision are likewise hers alone.”

Best Practice: If you feel strongly that your client should accept a settlementoffer, donot be afraid to encourage settlement, and make your position clear and in writing. In certain circumstances, albeit in more extreme instances, you may even want to withdraw from representing the client on the grounds of breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. But of course, always consult the Firm GC before doing so.