A number of years ago a someone called our office concerned about an elderly gent who was facing the possibility of loosing his land due to a foreclosure. He asked that we send someone to where this man lived to see if there was a way to help him. It was the dead of winter and very cold with snow blowing everywhere. The property was in a rural area and the entire 80 acres that was secured by the loan was fenced so that cattle that grazed on that land could utilize every inch for pasture. Most fields are fenced so the cattle can graze the pasture areas but not the yard around the house.
You see, his house was inside the fencing. So, to knock on the front door, I had to climb a gate and literally walk through a herd of about 30 black Angus cattle to get to the front door as most of them were congregated around the house. The house was weathered and in disrepair. The screen door was hanging from one hinge. I knocked on the door and heard someone moving around inside so I waited and knocked again. Finally, after some time, an elderly gent answered the door and asked what I wanted?
Exploring the reason why my visit was merited, he told me that it was true that someone was trying to take his farm from him. He went on to explain that he couldn’t keep up with the payments because he had to feed his cattle. As we spoke, a kerosene heater he had placed next to the couch provided some small amount of heat. We discussed whether he had heat and he invited me to touch a radiator against the wall and touching it, I found that it was barely warm. It was apparent he was just getting by. He explained that the cattle were like pets to him and he didn’t have the heart to take them to market.
As we sat on the couch, my attention was suddenly drawn to a very large dog which came into view in the room right next to where we were sitting. I am not afraid of dogs generally, but this “dog” was huge. As I did a double take, the farmer explained, “that is Daisy”. Daisy was a cow! As we talked, Daisy decided it was time to relieve herself and proceeded to urinate where she was standing while calmly chewing her cud. At the moment, the farmer said, “Now Daisy, I told you not to do that in here! Daisy, stop that right now!” as the cow continued to urinate without hesitation. The farmer seemed embarrassed and said she was in the house because she was young and it was cold outside. As I was leaving, I observed a number of places in the carpet which appeared to be wet and circular in form. The delay answering the door may have been due to his attempts to clean up other debris so that it wasn’t apparent when I came in.
A few years ago, on of my former students called me and said, “I think I committed malpractice!” She when on to explain the issue and her mistake and told me that it would probably cost the client $8,000 to rectify the situation. “What should I do?” she asked. I told her first, to contact her malpractice insurance carrier and report the incident. Then follow their instructions. But, I told her that they would most likely tell her to tell her client the truth (or expose the “cow”) and to see what it will take to undo the damage.
She did as I told her and she reported back to me several weeks later that the client told her not to worry about the oversight as she had done several months worth of work for them before that and they felt that work had saved them substantially more already. Often our fears are unfounded and it is not an option to hide your missteps. Carry malpractice insurance, do the best work you can for your clients and if you make a mistake disclose it and learn from your mistake. You will not be the first lawyer to call a malpractice insurance carrier. But don’t risk losing your license by trying to hide the “cow”. It isn’t worth it.