A jury awarded our client $3.5 million in a legal malpractice case against Craig Swapp and Associates. We worked this case for six-plus years, and I'm extremely proud of our team.
The Underlying Case:
Our client was stopped in a rush-hour traffic jam in Portland, Oregon back in 2006. A fully loaded semi weighing 48 tons going 30+ mph slammed into the back of our client. Our client’s car was pushed into another lane of traffic, where she was side-swiped by a second semi. Our client’s knees struck the dashboard/steering column. She suffered significant knee degeneration and had to have multiple surgeries (including ultimately two total knee replacements) as a result of the accident. She also suffers from pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS) as a result of the accident.
The Malpractice Case:
(1) The Swapp Firm (“Swapp”) should have assigned the case to an Oregon licensed attorney immediately after intake. This is important because personal injury cases in Oregon have strict deadlines (e.g., a two-year statute of limitation, two months to serve a defendant, cases must come to trial within one year of being filed, etc.) It did not do so.
(2) Swapp admitted the case should have been assigned to an experienced trucking accident attorney. (Swapp even prominently advertises the importance of using experienced trucking accident attorneys on its website.) Asked on cross examination if Swapp even has an experience trucking accident attorney, Craig Swapp admitted that he is one. Yet Swapp did not assign the case to an experienced trucking accident attorney. The case was assigned to an attorney with minimal personal injury experience and no prior experience with trucking accidents.
(3) Swapp admitted it had a duty to diligently work up the case (investigate, collect evidence, hire experts, etc.) It did not do so. This is troubling given the speed at which Oregon personal injury cases progress to trial.
(4) Swapp filed a complaint, but failed to timely serve the defendant truckers/trucking companies. Swapp voluntarily dismissed the first complaint and filed a new complaint. Swapp failed to timely serve the defendants a second time. In total, that’s four blown attempts at service. The statute of limitations passed. Swapp attempted for a period of months to “fix” the blown statute of limitations. Ultimately, the Oregon court ruled that the client’s case was dead.
(5) The client’s case was being handled out of Swapp’s Spokane office. At the time, the attorney assigned to the case was handling 108 cases. That was far more than Swapp attorneys usually handle. (At the time, Craig Swapp was personally handling 1-2 cases at most.) The attorney was overwhelmed, and Swapp knew it. The firm could have hired another attorney to help with his caseload for $60,000-$70,000 per year. In the relevant timeframe, the firm spent approximately $500,000 per year on advertising in the Spokane market alone.
(6) Swapp provided false/misleading information to the client in response to requests for status updates regarding her case.
(7) In the firm’s internal case management software, Swapp employees referred to the client as “a pain in the ass” and a “moron.”
(8) Swapp did not immediately disclose to the client that the statute had been blown. Instead, Swapp spent months trying to “fix” the blown statute of limitations without informing the client her case was dead. A conflict of interest arguably arises when an attorney has committed malpractice. The client is entitled to full disclosure at that point so that she can seek independent counsel to: (1) fix what the first attorneys screwed up if possible, and/or (2) enforce her rights against the first attorneys. Even when Swapp finally came clean with the client, it still didn't put the client's interests first. Instead, Swapp encouraged the client to talk with Swapp's own malpractice attorney. Doing so would have served Swapp's interests, not the client's.
(9) Once the case was dead, Swapp did not take responsibility for the screw up. It allowed a judgment for costs to be entered against the client in the Oregon case, which Swapp did not pay. Not only that, but—in direct conflict with the allegations of the complaints it had filed on behalf of the client—Swapp claimed the client hadn’t really been injured in the accident. This was a significant betrayal. Years of litigation and financial and emotional stress ensued.
(10) At trial, Swapp attempted to act apologetic. This was an obvious trial tactic since Swapp hadn’t apologized in the preceding years. (When asked why there had been no apologies previously, Craig Swapp testified in effect that apologies are not part of his job description. That seemed to go over like a turd in a punch bowl to the jury.) Swapp's apologies also rang false because Swapp called to testify a series of expert witnesses who had never met, interviewed, or examined the client to suggest to the jury that she was a liar and a fraud just trying to get rich.
We appreciate the hard work the jury put into hearing the case and reaching its decision. We are very happy for our clients who have suffered far too much at the hands of Swapp attorneys who were supposed to be their champions. Most of all, we are hopeful results like this will help prevent the same thing from happening again.