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The Blame Game

Q: " While filling out my insurance renewal application, I came across a question that asks if in the past 10 years, have I had any lawsuits or claims, including notice of a potential claim or a demand letter.

This past year, I was hired as an expert witness by an attorney I have known for years and always respected. The attorney’s client, a property owner, was suing a neighbor whose garage was encroaching on his property. I testified for the property owner about diminution in value.

I thought my testimony went well at the trial. Both the attorney and the client thanked me afterward. Unfortunately, the judge ruled for the other side. The property owner I testified for then sent me a letter, placing part of the blame on me for losing, citing the fact that the judge did not find me to be a credible witness. If not for my “poor performance” as the letter stated, he would have been awarded damages in excess of $50,000. He also refused to pay my bill for the trial presentation and testimony.

I contacted the attorney that hired me. I learned that he received a similar “blame” letter from the property owner, since the attorney was the one to hire me as an expert witness, and it was his fault that the case was lost. The attorney assured me that the owner was only venting, and to just forget about it. Now 7 months have passed, and neither I nor the attorney have responded to these letters, and I haven’t heard anything more from the disgruntled client. Do I need to disclose this on my insurance renewal application?"

A: Yes, you do need to include this (keep in mind that most insurance companies will not decline or surcharge due to this incident). Even though this “blame” letter might not develop into a claim, you still need to disclose this incident on your E&O renewal application. It is possible the attorney is right and that nothing will come of it, but since he did not author the letter, he is not in the best position to tell you to “just forget about it.” Since it has only been 7 months, the statute of limitations probably has not run yet, but you can’t be sure that the situation is over and done with. Go on record with your insurance company and fully disclose the incident, as soon as possible. Not disclosing might jeopardize your future coverage if the matter develops into something more, like a lawsuit. This is when you would need the protection the most. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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