Sunday, September 20, 2009

$4.5 Million Failure to Communicate

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate." - Cool Hand Luke

The Sun-Sentinel reports that a Florida-based law firm just got hit with a $4.5 million judgment for its failure to communicate. The firm had previously filed an employment discrimination suit on behalf of Jackie Young. A judge dismissed the suit in September 2001 because of "errors in the lawsuit." The firm then notified Ms. Young... in October 2002! By that time it was too late to refile.

In the firm's defense, a senior partner claims this is all the fault of a
"rogue lawyer who filed this case without authority and contrary to his supervisor's clear direction. Unbeknownst to the firm and his colleagues, the case was filed and dismissed due to his error. Mr. Romeo purposely hid that information from all parties."
The "rogue" was apparently fired and later disbarred.

Even if the firm is not to blame, the message from the judgment is clear: Communicate! Whether it's good news or bad, people would rather be informed than kept in the dark. Finding out your case was dismissed is bad. Finding out your case was dismissed over a year ago, nobody felt like telling you (or even worse, they forgot about you!), and your lawsuit is now barred is much much (much) worse!

The firm intends to appeal the judgment. Even if the judgment is eventually reduced to zero, the publicity is damaging for the firm and the costs to litigate through to (at least one) appeal are high. No matter what, they'll end up paying quite a price for a failure to communicate.

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