Tuesday 21 November 2017

Woman left with €40,000 judgment on house over solicitor's failures, High Court hears

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns

A woman is unable to sell her house because a €40,000 judgment had been entered against her without her knowledge due to her solicitor's failure to process a personal injuries case she took, the High Court heard.

Yesterday, the solicitor, Angela Farrell, practising at North Great George's Street, Dublin, was struck off for professional misconduct for failing to protect the interests of the woman, former client Dymphna O'Callaghan of Sixmilebridge in Clare.

High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said, when striking Ms Farrell off the roll of solicitors, that her conduct "can only be described as disgraceful and unworthy of the profession to which she belongs".

He said Ms O'Callaghan had retained Ms Farrell to bring a personal injuries case for her over a horse riding accident in 1993 in which she sustained back injuries.

Proceedings were brought in 1996 but it was not until 2008 that Ms Farrell informed Ms O'Callaghan that an offer to settle appeared to have been made by the defendants in the accident case.

However, Mr Justice Kearns said, that was the last Ms O'Callaghan heard until December 2011 when she received a letter "out of the blue" from a solicitor for the defendants in the accident case that, instead of an offer of compensation in her favour, a High Court judgment for €40,600 had in fact been entered against her. 

This arose after the defendants successfully brought an application to strike out Ms O'Callaghan's case for want of prosecution and the legal costs of that application, of €40,600, were awarded against Ms O'Callaghan along with ongoing court interest. 

Ms O'Callaghan knew nothing about this, the judge said, and subsequently judgment for those costs was entered against her.

When she went to sell her house, she found she was unable to do so until that judgment mortgage was discharged and this remains the situation today, the judge said.

The court heard Ms O'Callaghan got a new solicitor in Limerick and a complaint was made to the Law Society against Ms Farrell, who did not turn up for yesterday's court hearing although the judge noted she was aware of it from her attendance in court on Monday.

Mary Fenlon, solicitor in the Law Society's regulation department, said a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found her guilty of eight charges in relation to Ms O'Callaghan, including failing to protect the interests of her client, failing to hand over files in the case to another solicitor and failing to respond to correspondence from the Law Society.

Unfortunately, Ms O'Callaghan cannot avail of the Society's compensation fund because the solicitor's misconduct was one of "woeful neglect" rather than dishonesty, Ms Fenlon said.

The disciplinary tribunal, in recommending that Ms Farrell be struck off, also took into account two previous findings of misconduct against her, in October 2011 and June 2012, for which she was censured and ordered to pay restitution, including €20,000 to a former employee but which was never paid, Ms Fenlon said.

There are also two other separate complaints outstanding against her which the court yesterday gave the Law Society liberty to re-enter at any time in the future.

Mr Justice Kearns said when Ms O'Callaghan eventually managed to get to meet with Ms Farrell over the €40,000 judgment, the solicitor told her she "had a lot on her plate" and was also very "confusing and vague".  Ms Farrell promised she would take responsibility for the judgment but this never happened, he said.

Instead, Ms O'Callaghan received a letter from the Land Registry notifying her of the judgment and "even more extraordinarily she (O'Callaghan) had two calls from the Sheriffs office" to her home.

"It is hard to imagine something more frightening and fortunately on each occasion she was not at home", he said.

Ms O'Callaghan was "horrified to be put in a situation which is ongoing and is preventing her selling her home", he said.   She never got a penny out of the case that she had taken over her injury case, he said.

"It is hard to imagine a more reprehensible course of conduct (by Ms Farrell)".   She had "absolutely no regard for her client" or for the disciplinary tribunal, he added.

He ordered she be struck off, pay €40,600 restitution to Ms O'Callaghan and pay costs of the case brought by the Law Society.

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