Ignore a Trial Setting at Your Own Peril

In this attorney malpractice case, a client sued his lawyer for malpractice and a number of other related causes of action.  The parties settled the case at mediation and signed a settlement agreement requiring the lawyer to sign an agreed judgment to secure payment of the settlement amount.  The client’s attorney prepared the agreed judgment and sent it to the lawyer’s attorney, but, after several attempts, never received a response.  As a result, the trial court re-opened the case (which had been dismissed due to the settlement), set it for a bench trial, and sent notice of the trial setting to both parties.

At the bench trial, neither the lawyer nor his attorney showed up, and the trial court awarded the client damages in an amount that was more than three times the amount of the settlement.  The lawyer then filed a motion for a new trial.  His attorney acknowledged, however, that he had received notice of the trial but ignored it because he thought that it was an “erroneous” notice since the case had settled.  The trial court found this excuse insufficient and denied the motion.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed, and, although it reversed some of the damages awarded to the client, held that it was within the trial court’s discretion to conclude that the lawyer and his attorney “failed to appear for trial as the result of intentional conduct or conscious indifference.”

McLeod v. Gyr, No. CC-11-02708-B

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