A truck driver says he was denied justice twice: first by his own lawyer who lied and falsified documents, then by the legal association insurer, who refused to pay him because the same the lawyer did not follow his rules.
Dale Rindero wanted to sue his former employer, believing he was unfairly fired.
He was sure he had a good case from the days of the labor regulator Employment Standards Alberta and Employment Insurance had already sided with him.
But Rindero missed the two-year window to file his wrongful dismissal suit because his lawyer lied and didn’t do the required work.
Kevan Peterson lied about filing a complaint with the court and fabricated elaborate papers for a $ 22,000 settlement that he claimed he negotiated with Rindero’s former employer, according to Law Society of Alberta documents.
“He had done nothing but lie to me. When he finally admitted he hadn’t done anything with the courts … he just disappeared,” Rindero told Go Public from his new home in Arborfield, Sask. He lived in Bonnyville, Alta.
So Rindero turned to the insurance company of the law firm, the Alberta Lawyers Indemnity Association (ALIA), to file a claim for the money he believes he lost because his case never made it to court.
But the insurer refused to consider the claim, not because Rindero did something wrong, but because Peterson broke the insurer’s rules. So he canceled his cover.
“I don’t understand,” Rindero said of the ALIA decision. “I assume they are there for a purpose, but I have no idea what it is.”
Experts say there’s a loophole in the system – which is meant to protect Canadians from bad lawyers – that leaves people like Rindero holding the sack.
In exchange for having what is basically a monopoly on legal services, legal expert Robert Harvie says lawyers must have insurance through their provincial law firms to protect and compensate clients when good lawyers make mistakes or those. bad guys intentionally harm customers.
“The price of that monopoly is to protect [the public]and they’re not doing it, ”said Harvie, an attorney and former banker at the Law Society of Alberta, where she assisted with regulatory issues and more.
He says clients who have been wronged can easily be dismissed if their lawyer has broken the insurer’s rules.
And those rules can be very specific, he says, ranging from refusing to cooperate with the law firm’s investigation to failing to report potential complaints to the company before they even occur.
The ALIA will not say what rules Peterson broke. Rindero says he was told he had refused to cooperate with a law firm investigation against him.
“We ended up losing our home”
When Rindero was looking for a lawyer, the law firm referred him to his referral servicewhere he found Peterson.
The website showed that Peterson was in good standing with no problems. That changed after Rindero hired him in March 2016, but no one from the law firm warned Rindero.
He only found out when he called to complain about Peterson in June 2019 and was told that the man he thought was still his lawyer had been suspended five months earlier.
“I was completely flabbergasted,” said Rindero. “They should let you know when your lawyer was suspended.”
The law firm asks the court to appoint a custodian to update clients when a lawyer is in trouble, but in Peterson’s case, that didn’t happen for several months because the firm believed he had no active file, according to Elizabeth J. Osler. , CEO and executive director of the company.
Peterson’s suspension was extended for another 13 months on January 25, 2021, after a hearing panel of a law firm found him guilty of 21 violations under his code of Conduct involving six customers, including Rindero. Such violations included misconduct, failing to attend court, failing to be honest, creating a false document, practicing law while suspended, and more.
He was ordered to pay $ 12,574 to cover the costs of the hearing, but the law firm is not allowed to use that money to pay compensation to injured clients.
For four months after he was fired, Rindero struggled to find work and when he did, it was temporary manual work that did a fraction of what he was used to, which was around $ 120,000 a year, plus i benefits.
The lack of work and pay has hit him hard, he says.
“It had a huge, huge impact,” he said. “We were trying to keep up with the bills [but] I fell behind on the mortgage payments. In the end, we lost our home. ”
He has since found another job as a truck driver, but it’s only seasonal, he doesn’t pay well and he has no benefits.
2 types of lawyers
Most lawyers follow the rules and serve their clients well, says Trevor Farrow, a professor at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School. But he says clients shouldn’t be abandoned when lawyers make mistakes or intentionally harm.
Those who are disciplined By law, companies fall into two categories, he says: those who make mistakes and admit them, and the rogue lawyers whose irregularities lead to their clients being hit.
Farrow says insurers often compensate customers of the former, while others can fall into the cracks.
“These are the much rarer cases where it’s not a mistake. It’s someone who isn’t playing by the rules and they’ve taken off,” he said.
Farrow says that while all Canadian law firms, which regulate the legal profession, require lawyers to have insurance, many also have a separate compensation fund for impaired clients.
The problem is that compensation funds are often limited and only cover specific types of wrongdoing.
For example, BC’s fund only compensates for theft of money or other property, and Alberta’s fund only covers cases involving misappropriation of funds.
“[Rindero’s] it’s one of those cases that, I think, falls right in the middle of two different sets of regimes designed to protect the public… and when those two regimes don’t line up, the clients stay in hand, ”Farrow said.
Both he and Harvie claim that Rindero should have been compensated.
The Law Society of Alberta, which has a duty to protect the public under the provincial Legal Profession Act, owns the ALIA but the two operate largely independently.
Go Public asked ALIA if that duty extends to their own work, but they didn’t respond to this or anyone else questions, including whether it is fair to deny clients compensation when their lawyer breaks the rules and whether the ALIA system unfairly penalizes people with the misfortune of having been involved with a problem lawyer.
Instead, in a general statement, an ALIA spokesperson said: “In some cases, payment of damages is not available because a claimant or subscriber has not met the necessary criteria under the professional indemnity policy.”
Harvie says the public must question the lack of responses from an insurer who should be accountable for its decisions.
“It becomes this little kind of closed club of insiders and the public doesn’t really understand what the limits are, what the problems are, because the insiders like it the way it is,” he said.
Rindero has little hope that ALIA will help him. He hired a new lawyer and filed a lawsuit against Peterson.
“I trusted people to follow their word,” Rindero said. “I don’t know if I can take it anymore. I tell people to watch your back, to be careful, because you have no recourse if you hire a bad lawyer.”
Peterson’s suspension was supposed to end on February 25, but the law firm’s website shows he is still barred from practicing the legal profession. Lawyers must apply to be reinstated, and such requests are confidential, the law firm said.
Go Public attempted to contact Peterson for comment, but received no response.
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