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Attorneys on the verge of settling suits should keep one eye on the whereabouts of their clients. A New York law firm that negotiated a $16,000 award on behalf of its client in a personal injury case cannot collect the fee — including the firm’s one-third share — after having lost track of its client, a Bronx judge has ruled. Frekhtman & Associates cannot obtain the money it is allegedly owed because it never established that its missing client had agreed to the settlement, according to Civil Court Judge Sharon A.M. Aarons. “In this case, there is no sum of money payable because the movant has not met its burden in proving the authority to settle,” she wrote in Summers v. Medical Support Transportation, 910/2004. In the underlying case, Christopher Summers — the missing plaintiff — engaged the Brooklyn personal injury firm to recover for minor injuries he incurred in a May 2002 car accident. Summers, then 20, claimed he had been helping his friend Donald Jackson, an employee of the defendant Medical Support Transportation, when Jackson rolled a company van through a stop sign, precipitating a collision. He hired the Frekhtman firm to litigate his claim. The firm, represented by its principal, Arkady Frekhtman, entered into negotiations with Liberty Mutual Insurance, which covered Medical Support Transportation. The two sides settled on a payment of $16,000. Frekhtman & Associates, which had lost contact with its client, then sought to find him, though to no avail. “We used some of the Internet databases, we used a private investigator,” Frekhtman said in an interview. “We called all the numbers, but all the numbers seemed to be disconnected.” Frekhtman & Associates, which had never received an executed release from Summers, then requested three checks totalling $16,000: $5,200 for fees, $400 for expenses and $10,400 to be held for Summers, should he be located. Mutual Support Transportation demurred, and Frekhtman & Associates moved for an order settling the case and directing payment. Aarons denied the motion. “An attorney cannot compromise or settle a claim without a grant of authority from the client and settlements negotiated without a grant of authority from the client have not been binding,” she wrote, citing Hallock v. State of New York, 64 NY 2d 224. Because Summers did not execute a release granting such authority, Aarons added, “this court may only grant the relief requested upon the showing that [Summers] has undeniably approved the settlement and cannot disavow it.” Frekhtman & Associates, relying solely on Frekhtman’s affidavit, did not meet that standard, the judge ruled. The firm, which did not submit as evidence a copy of a retainer agreement or an engagement letter, also failed to establish that it was entitled to a one-third share of the $16,000, she added. Frekhtman said the search for Summers will continue. “I think he would be thrilled if he could have anything,” he said.

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