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Bignall to face GLC’s disciplinary committee

Published:Friday | June 2, 2023 | 12:07 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Ian Allen
Bignall building in Half Way Tree that houses the Bignall Law Firm.
Ian Allen Bignall building in Half Way Tree that houses the Bignall Law Firm.

PERSONAL INJURY attorney-at-law Vaughn Bignall has been brought before the disciplinary committee of the General Legal Council (GLC) over allegations of professional misconduct involving a decade-old matter. The complaint was brought by 43-year-...

PERSONAL INJURY attorney-at-law Vaughn Bignall has been brought before the disciplinary committee of the General Legal Council (GLC) over allegations of professional misconduct involving a decade-old matter.

The complaint was brought by 43-year-old Latoya Shaw, who, in an affidavit, outlined a slew of allegations against Bignall, including the “inexcusable or deplorable negligence in the performance of his duties”.

Bignall declined to comment on the matter when contacted and instead referred The Gleaner to his attorney, Danielle Archer.

In an emailed response to The Gleaner, Archer said that hearings at the GLC are akin to court proceedings.

“As such, attorneys are and have been encouraged to speak at the end of all matters and after obtaining the consent of their client,” she said.

The GLC also declined to comment when contacted by The Gleaner on Tuesday.

SHAW’S CLAIMS

In a Gleaner interview hours earlier, Shaw claimed that in 2013, her father, Ralston, was injured after the driver of a vehicle belonging to a popular charitable organisation ran off the road and into his shop located in Ewarton, St Catherine.

The elder Shaw reportedly contracted Bignall’s firm, Bignall Law, to seek damages on his behalf through a personal injury negligence claim. However, he died a few months later when he was hit from his motorcycle in the vicinity of his shop.

Shaw said she contacted Bignall for updates on the process of the claim filed on behalf of her father but was told years later via a letter from the firm dated April 28, 2021, that her father’s death terminated the legal retainer with the firm.

The firm also said in the letter that no claim was filed in the courts as a result of the death and that no probate or administration had been granted by the court.

Further, the letter stated that Bignall Law “made all efforts through an application to the court” to appoint Shaw as the legal administrator of her father’s estate but said that unless she was appointed, there was not much they could do to assist.

‘STATUTE BARRED’

The letter also stated that since the accident, the matter had become “statute barred” because the six-month limitation period had passed.

It indicated that for the firm to assist further, the woman would have had to pay a $200,000 retainer fee.

But Shaw, in her affidavit, argued that Bignall has charged her fees that are “not fair and reasonable” and withdrew from her employment without taking reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice or injury to her position and rights as his client.

She further claimed that having withdrawn from her employment, he did not promptly refund such part of the fees paid in advance as may be fair and reasonable.

Shaw said that Bignall failed to provide her with all information as to the progress of her business with due expedition although she has “reasonably required him to do so”.

“He has acted with inexcusable or deplorable negligence in the performance of his duties. He has not accounted to me for all monies in his hands for my account or credit although I have reasonably required him to do so.

“He has not given full disclosure, nor has he received approval, and he has acted in a manner in which his professional duties and his personal interest conflict or are likely to conflict,” Shaw’s affidavit said.

She argued that Bignall is in breach of Canon 1 (b), which states that “an attorney shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of the profession and shall abstain from behaviour which may tend to discredit the profession of which he is a member”.

Shaw also insisted that the attorney is in breach of Canon VI (d), which states that “an attorney shall not give a professional undertaking which he cannot fulfil and shall fulfil every such undertaking which he gives”.

Further, she said that Bignall has breached the Legal Profession (Accounts and Records) Regulations.

COUNTER CLAIMS

But in his affidavit filed, Bignall countered Shaw’s claims, noting that she never retained Bignall Law to act on her behalf and that his firm was contracted only by the elder Shaw.

Bignall said upon the man’s death, a letter was written and delivered to his son, Paul, informing him that the existing retainer had been terminated and that there was need for someone with locus standi to step in the shoes of the deceased as a representative party.

The lawyer said he was contacted in May 2014 by Guardian Insurance Group, and despite being without instructions, attempted to assist Shaw’s family to acquire needed letters of administration to proceed.

He said that the interested parties were informed that they were free to retain other counsel and that the firm’s primary concern was that the offer be settled. Bignall, in his affidavit, said that the family was also told that the firm was unable to act as it had no instructions to either accept or counter the offer.

A document seen by The Gleaner revealed that the insurance company offered general damages of $750,000 for injuries suffered by the elder Shaw, special damages of $15,000, transportation of $6,000, extra help of $10,000, and attorney’s cost of $30,000.

Bignall said no money was ever paid to his firm by Shaw or any interested party in these proceedings “as being received for services for preparing and filing documents for the [application] from grant administration”.

He said that on the cusp of the personal injury claim being statute barred, his firm received the “long outstanding” death certificate for Shaw in November 2018 and proceeded to forward a letter in response and in addition to amended documents to the probate registry.

The attorney said to date, his firm is unaware that any grant of administration has been granted.

Additionally, he said that there has been no response to the April 28, 2021, letter sent to Shaw.

He said that his firm has constantly provided Shaw with updates and all information that he was at liberty to provide and that he dealt with the complainant’s business with “all due expedition and beyond all expectation”.

He rejected claims that he acted with inexcusable and deplorable negligence in the performance of his duties in respect of the matter.

At the same time, he said that he received no money in hand on account or credit for or on behalf of Shaw or any other interested party in this or the related matter and said that he is not in breach of any canon of the professional ethics.

Bignall also denied “every and all grounds raised and any impropriety expressed or alluded to” in Shaw’s complaint and affidavit and requested that “this complainant be summarily dismissed forthwith”.