Professional Rules of Conduct require attorneys to communicate important information with their clients. A failure to do so can have disastrous effects. A recent case provides an example. In this case, three sisters claim their attorney’s failure to communicate resulted in the loss of their ability to receive funds set aside for victims of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Their brother was one of the first responders who was killed by the attack.
What did the attorney do wrong?
The sisters filed the claim on behalf of their parents, who filed the original claim but have since passed. The parents had filed the original claim with the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund. The government established the Fund in 2015 to compensate those who suffer harm as a result of international terrorism.
In February, the government announced it funded the program with proceeds from the sale of confiscated Iranian fuel. Around that time, the attorney sent a letter to the sisters stating they needed to act. The sisters state the letter was vague, and because it did not offer specifics they missed out on a deadline.
What was the deadline?
In order to get the payment, the government required those who qualify to “assert” their right to obtain the benefits by a set date. They basically needed to file more paperwork. The sisters claim that their attorney did not properly inform them of this need and that because of this failure they missed the deadline and can no longer get the payout.
The sisters have filed a legal malpractice claim against the counsel, alleging they breached ethical and fiduciary duties to the clients and are responsible for the loss of almost $1 million. If successful, they could recoup these funds.