Representation of Insured on Compulsory Counterclaim
Opinion rules that an attorney retained by an insurance carrier to defend an insured has no ethical obligation to represent the insured on a compulsory counterclaim provided the attorney apprises the insured of the counterclaim in sufficient time for the insured to retain separate counsel.
Motor vehicle liability insurance carrier hires Defense Counsel to represent its insured, A, who has been sued for motor vehicle negligence. There is a compulsory counterclaim which could be made on behalf of A. Is it ethical for Defense Counsel to answer the complaint, omit the compulsory counterclaim and advise A of the need to retain separate counsel at A's expense in order to prosecute the claim within the 30 day amendment period provided by Rule 15 of the Rules of Civil Procedure?
No. There are two separate aspects of the representation of A in this fact situation. One is the defense of A and the other is the representation of A on the counterclaim. The defense of A is governed by the insurance agreement, the Rules of Professional Conduct, and the ethics opinions adopted by the State Bar. By paying premiums for insurance, A purchased indemnity coverage for liability claims and a legal defense. A did not contractually acquire a right to have a claim prosecuted on his or her behalf. That is a matter which is up to A to negotiate with counsel of A's choice. A may negotiate with Defense Counsel to represent A on the counterclaim and Defense Counsel may choose to represent A on the counterclaim if Defense Counsel reasonably foresees no conflict of interest. Defense Counsel is under no ethical obligation to assert a compulsory counterclaim on behalf of A. Having been retained to defend A, however, it is incumbent upon Defense Counsel to take reasonable steps to apprise A of the compulsory nature of the counterclaim prior to the filing of the answer to the complaint and in sufficient time for A to negotiate the prosecution of the counterclaim with Defense Counsel or for A to retain separate counsel to prosecute the counterclaim in concert with Defense Counsel's defense of the claim.
May Defense Counsel fulfill his ethical obligations to A by drafting the counterclaim and including it in the answer on the condition that A sign the pleading as "pro se counterclaimant" and with the understanding that Defense Counsel will not represent A on the counterclaim?
Yes, if Defense Counsel does not wish to represent A on the counterclaim and A cannot find separate counsel to prosecute the counterclaim.
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