An experienced solicitor who worked at Slater & Gordon has been struck off after telling a personal injury client that her case was ongoing when it had actually settled and using some of the money to pay other clients damages they were not entitled to.
Gareth Rowan Evans, who qualified in 1993, admitted dishonesty and manifest incompetence but said he had not been thinking straight when he found himself in a “desperate” position.
Client H did not find out for more than two years – Mr Evans lost his job in February 2018 when Slater & Gordon closed the Chelmsford office where he worked and then reviewed his files.
Slater & Gordon reported Mr Evans to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in August 2018. Client H told the SRA she had not still received the money and was suing the firm for negligence.
Client H initially instructed Silverbeck Rymer to pursue a personal injury claim in May 2008 following a road traffic accident.
Mr Evans was her solicitor from August 2008. Slater & Gordon acquired Silverbeck Rymer as part of Quindell’s professional services division in 2015.
An agreed outcome with the SRA and approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal recorded that, instead of telling the client that her case had settled for £45,000 in March 2016, Mr Evans “continued to give Client H the impression that the matter was continuing and that discussions were ongoing”.
In April 2016, Mr Evans told Client H that he had received an offer of £60,000 from the other side, which he advised her to reject as £75,000 was more appropriate.
In October 2016, Mr Evans said she had been offered a lump sum of over £85,000, and in November she attended a Harley Street appointment with a consultant.
During 2017, Mr Evans “continued to liaise with client H as regards the claim even though it had settled the previous year” and Client H went to another Harley Street appointment.
It was not until June 2018, more than two years later, that Client H discovered that the claim had been settled when another fee-earner from the firm called her.
She said the news left her in a “state of shock” and it caused her “considerable stress, anger, anxiety and sleepless nights”.
Client H told the SRA she had still not received any of the settlement and has had to instructed solicitors to pursue a negligence claim against Slater & Gordon.
Mr Evans admitted that, while acting for Client H, he had also failed to comply with court directions, failed to take instructions over an application to strike out the case and failed to seek instructions before serving documents.
The solicitor admitted acting dishonestly and in a manner that was “manifestly incompetent”.
He also admitted arranging payments of £17,000 and almost £4,700 to two other clients were recorded against the ledger of Client H and acted dishonestly in doing so.
His recollection was that court directions had not been complied with, meaning the first payment followed an undersettlement, while the second claim had actually been unsuccessful.
In mitigation, which was not agreed by the SRA, the solicitor said he did not believe that “caseloads were properly monitored by the firm and that a number of fee-earners had too many cases to deal with properly”.
As a result, “issues escalated on his files”. At no point did he “take any time off work because of stress”, but “there was an occasion when he started to cry at work as he felt out of his depth due to the amount of work he had”.
Mr Evans said he had inherited “a number of multi-track cases from another office and these being a type of case he was not used to dealing with”.
He said he had made the payments to the other client when he was “in a desperate position and was no longer thinking straight”.
These actions were out of character, he asserted, and he now realised that he should have admitted making an error, but he was worried about facing disciplinary action.
Approving the agreed outcome, the tribunal said the solicitor’s dishonesty had “continued over an extended period of time” and his misconduct was “extremely serious”. He was struck off and ordered to pay £2,300 in costs.