Panicked solicitor under-settled claim and misled client

SDT: Solicitor was overworked

A solicitor panicked after realising she had missed a court deadline and under-settled her client’s personal injury claim before leading them on for more than four years about its progress.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal accepted a statement of agreed facts and outcome put forward by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that Zoe Ann Lowe be struck off as a result.

Born in 1965, Ms Lowe qualified in 1995 and from 1996 to 2020 was a personal injury specialist at Hertfordshire firm Ewart Price.

Ms Lowe was acting in a claim where liability was admitted and in late August 2013 the defendant made an offer to settle for £7,500, which was open for 21 days. But she did not inform her client of the offer for over two months and then said she hoped to secure an improved offer.

However, she knew this was “highly unlikely”, the SRA said, because she had missed court deadlines for filing witness statements, updated medical evidence and updated schedule of losses. In any case, Client A said the offer was too low and she would not accept it.

In January 2014, four months after the court deadline, the defendant’s solicitors, Weightmans, made a revised offer of £5,000, saying the court was unlikely to grant relief from sanction to file the documents.

Ms Lowe accepted it without seeking instructions from her client and did not tell her what she had done.

For more than four years, Ms Lowe misled Client A about the progress of her claim, leading her to believe it was ongoing, such as asking her to sign further letters of authority for the release of medical evidence.

It was only in April 2018, when Client A made a service complaint to the firm, that she discovered her claim had been settled in 2014.

In non-agreed mitigation, Ms Lowe explained that, in early 2013, the firm had told her and the other personal injury fee-earner that the department would be closing that year.

Her colleague found a new job, leaving Ms Lowe to handle her cases too. “The overwhelming increase in workload and the uncertainty about her future meant that this was a very stressful time for [her].”

The solicitor said she missed the deadlines because she was spending most of the time reading into her colleague’s cases.

The SRA recorded that when she received the letter from Weightmans, she was “horrified, embarrassed and ashamed that she had missed the court deadline. She panicked and acted out of character by accepting the lower settlement offer”.

The agreed statement went on: “Without her colleague, she felt isolated. She was embarrassed to inform her manager but states that this is no reflection on the firm.

“She accepted the offer of £5,000 because she had feared that the client might end up with nothing. She has expressed remorse and regret for her action and is deeply sorry for the distress caused to Client A by her actions, including any impact on her physical and mental health.”

However, Ms Lowe did not contend that this amounted to exceptional circumstances which would justify the tribunal in making any order other than that she be struck off.

Ms Lowe was also ordered to pay costs of £4,721.

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