Civil Clinic Helps Client Recover $5,000 in Theft Damages

“Working on this case helped me gain confidence,” commented Legal Intern Caitlin Macker of a recent USD Legal Clinics Civil Clinic case. “I work in civil litigation, and so much of being a litigator is being confident in your position. Opposing counsel was a skilled, experienced attorney so it was very easy for me to doubt my abilities at times. However, I compensated by being over-prepared for every task so that I could feel confident in both the client’s position and my understanding of the law.”

Photo credit: Jim Pennucci, Flickr Creative Commons License.

Macker’s hard work paid off, gaining the client $5,000 in losses due to negligence on a San Diego parking company’s part. In February of 2015, the client signed a parking agreement with the parking company and, months later while out of town, the client’s car was found abandoned on the side of the road. The client contacted the parking company to inquire as to how the theft could have occurred, however, the company refused to cooperate. After sending a demand letter to the company, requesting they retain their video surveillance records for investigation, and receiving an inadequate response, the client contacted the USD Legal Clinics for help.

In October of 2015, Civil Clinic legal intern, Caitlin Macker, was assigned to the case with the assistance of Supervising Attorneys Professor Allen Gruber and Professor Allen Snyder. “Since I was able to work on this case from intake to resolution, I performed a wide variety of functions as the client’s legal representative,” described Macker. “In the beginning, many of my tasks related to gathering information and evidence about potential claims and included client meetings and site visits. After gathering this information, I prepared demand letters, spoke with potential defendants, and corresponded about reaching a possible resolution. When resolution did not appear possible, I drafted and filed the complaint against the defendants.”

According to the parking company’s contract provisions, the client had entered into a license agreement, meaning that the clinic’s original cause of action for breach of bailment could not stand. The breach of contract and breach of implied warranty causes of action depended on the contract being a bailment contract. As a result, the Civil Clinic agreed with opposing counsel that it would dismiss these three causes of action. However, rather than being deterred by the bailment statute, Ms. Macker doggedly pursued a negligence claim.

“Like many clients who come to the clinic, this client came with what appeared a hopeless claim,” described Professor Snyder. “He had parked in a lot and received a ‘receipt’ limiting liability for damages to the car.  His car was actually stolen from the lot and he thought that, despite what the lot owner said, he should have some relief. Faced with both the receipt and the Civil Code sections which authorized the liability limitation, Caitlin had to look for other approaches. Lo and behold, she found one; and that approach succeeded. All credit to her tenacity.”

“Once the complaint was filed, most of my functions related to legal research, as it was important to settlement negotiations to understand the defendants’ position and counterarguments,” described Macker. “Finally, I corresponded with opposing counsel, argued the legal basis for our allegations, and negotiated the appropriate damages award. This required both legal research and extensive client communication in order to obtain the ultimate settlement. For much of this case, I used the tools and skills I learned in Professor Greene’s 1L Writing Class. I was able to use the research and writing skills to both understand the complexities of the defense’s position and effectively communicate the client’s position.”

Because opposing counsel was experienced, and the contract itself was written to limit the company’s liability in such cases, Macker relied on the support of the Civil Clinic’s Supervising Attorneys. “I received a great deal of advice from both Professor Gruber and Professor Snyder,” reflected Macker. “When the case first began, Professor Snyder helped me get an idea of what type of claims I should be filing by directing me to the governing civil code sections. Professor Gruber was available to edit all my drafts, answer all my questions throughout the long settlement process, and ultimately made sure I understood all the legal strategies available to me. Without Professor Gruber’s insight into the legal strategies, I would not have been able to understand how to correspond with opposing counsel on these matters.”

After ongoing negotiations with opposing counsel discussing the negligence cause of action, the parking company agreed to pay $5,000 to the client, in exchange for the dismissal of all causes of action and all defendants. The client received his check in late 2016.

“Caitlin knew that a wrong had been committed and worked on the principle we all learn as law students: where a wrong is committed, there must be a remedy to make it right,” commented Professor Gruber. “Caitlin believed in her client’s cause and, with some prodding, ultimately believed in her own wonderful skills. Caitlin is an exceptionally smart law student who worked tirelessly, diligently, and endlessly to make certain her client was adequately compensated, and she succeeded. She prepared, prepared, and prepared some more, and ultimately obtained a very fair settlement for her client.”

“When I heard the outcome of the case, I cried,” stated Macker. “I don’t cry often, but I broke the lawyer rule and became emotionally invested in the outcome of this case. The client is such a good person and was wonderful to work with. I was happy that he could feel that the long process of litigation paid off, even in a little way, because I believed so deeply in his side of the case.”

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