Clients claim that attorney forged their names on settlement documents, then stole money. They sue attorney, get judgment, and then lost any ability to collect, when carrier successfully disclaims and wins a collection case brought by the cleints against the carrier. Wiley Rein, LLP reports:
The Supreme Court of Nebraska has held that misappropriation and dishonesty exclusions in a lawyers professional liability policy barred an attorney’s former clients from executing legal malpractice judgments against the insurer that issued the policy. Fokken v. Steichen, 2008 WL 62539 (Neb. Jan. 4, 2008).
Several of the attorney’s former clients accused him of settling their tort claims without their approval by signing their signatures on release agreements and settlement checks without their authorization. The former clients also asserted that they had not received any of the settlement proceeds from the attorney. Furthermore, the former clients alleged that the attorney (1) failed to communicate with them regarding the defendants’ settlement offers; (2) accepted the settlement offers on their behalf without obtaining their consent; (3) allowed their tort claims to be dismissed with prejudice after the statute of limitations had expired; and (4) breached fiduciary duties owed to them. The former clients won malpractice judgments against the attorney and then instituted garnishment proceedings against the attorney’s insurer, and the parties cross-moved for summary judgment.
In granting the insurer’s motion for summary judgment, the court first observed that the former clients’ garnishment claims against the policy proceeds depended on whether the insurer would have been obligated to indemnify the attorney for the malpractice judgments in the first place because "the claim of a judgment creditor garnishor against a garnishee can rise no higher than the claim of the garnishor’s judgment debtor against the garnishee." The court next considered the former clients’ argument that "where an insurance company is notified of a pending suit against an insured and has a full opportunity to defend the action, the judgment against the insured, if obtained without fraud or collusion, will be conclusive against the insurance company." The court rejected this contention, explaining that the insurer was not challenging the malpractice judgments but was instead contending that the judgments were not covered by the policy. "