Brisbane firm accused of being ‘unlawful’ dodges appeal

By Naomi Neilson|19 April 2021
Queensland supreme court

A small Brisbane law firm was accused of being “unlawful” in its handling of a claim for compensation amid allegations of miscommunication by a client.

A client who approached a small firm of solicitors to act for her in claims for damages for personal injuries sustained at her workplace has accused them of acting unlawfully by withholding compensation, despite the Supreme Court of Queensland having found no such evidence that any kind of misconduct had occurred.

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The firm acted for her during a compulsory conference in which potential defendants made a joint offer for compensation valued at $400,000, inclusive of any refunds to WorkCover and payment for the firm’s services. Over several emails and letters following the conference, the firm made it clear how much she stood to win.

Across many of the correspondence, the firm also made it clear to the client that it was their strong recommendation she let the final offer for $400,000 expire so that they could come back to the table and renegotiate for a higher settlement. When she eventually decided to accept the offer, the firm sent a final letter that included that her acceptance was “against our very strong advice not to do so”.

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The client lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court alleging that she had either never seen a letter setting out the exact details of her compensation – including the total refund to be given to WorkCover – or had not seen it until a later time.

Among several of her complaints in her application for appeal, she contended that a release and discharge letter was “illegal” because she was forced to sign it “against my will by means of extortion”, allegedly based on the fact that she was told she had to sign the release and discharge or otherwise would not receive the settlement. The trial judge and appeal judge found no evidence of wrongdoing.

She also submitted that there was an error of law by the trial judge in his description of the practice applied at a settlement conference, namely when she was not in the room where the negotiations with the other side took place. His honour said it was standard procedure and that the client would be informed by the mediator.

She submitted that this was in some way a contravention of the law and the fact that she was not in the room when the negotiations took place “meant I neither made to or received from the defendants myself personally any offers that day”.  

“However, she acknowledges that the offers were verbally relayed to her by her solicitor. Thus, she was appraised of offers being made and had the chance to respond to them,” the Supreme Court judgement read.

Finally in her written outlines, the client asserted that the firm wrote the letters “with the intention of getting away with unlawfully withholding my compensation” and the handling of her case was “unlawful”. There is no evidence to support this.

Brisbane firm accused of being ‘unlawful’ dodges appeal
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