Builders Square, inc. v. Saraco,  868 F. Supp. 748 (E.D. Pa. 1994).

PA. underlying products liability suit

Student contributor: Cheryl Neuman

Facts: Plaintiff was a defendant in an underlying products liability lawsuit. Plaintiff was a retailer of the allegedly defective product. The distributor of the product was also named as a defendant. The distributor had $1 million of liability insurance coverage. Plaintiff retained defendant lawyer in the product liability suit. The plaintiffs in the underlying products liability offered to settle for $1 million, which was the limit of the insurance policy. Defendant lawyer, however, rejected the offer to settle and did not inform his client (plaintiff) about the settlement offer. After plaintiff found out about the settlement offer defendant attorney withdrew from representation. At trial, the parties agreed to settle for $4.25 million, of which the plaintiff was responsible for $3.25 million. Plaintiff therefore alleges that defendant’s failure to pursue the earlier settlement agreement placed plaintiff in a much weaker position to defend or settle the case.

Issue: Does a lawyer have the duty to explore and timely communicate to his client all settlement offers?

Ruling: Yes. An attorney had the duty to tell his client about all settlement offers as well as other important information relating to the representation.

Lesson:  The plaintiff in this case was dissatisfied  at having to settle a case on terms that were more disadvantageous than the terms of  the initial settlement negotiations.  Allowing this type of lawsuit to go forward heightens awareness and provides incentives to lawyers to fully communicate all settlement offers to their clients. It is, after all, the client’s right to settle the case. 

Editor’s Note: See RPC 1.4 re the lawyer’s duty to communicate to the client.