Attorneys James R. Schadel and Kenneth N. Schott, III earned a defense verdict after successfully trying an underlying civil rights action that formed the factual and legal basis for a legal malpractice action filed by a large insurance company against the firm’s clients, a lawyer and his law firm. Burns White attorneys negotiated for and reached an agreement with opposing counsel to try the underlying civil rights action in summary fashion over three days and before a retired judge sitting as special master. By way of contrast, a traditional jury trial would have lasted at least two weeks. The efforts of the Burns White attorneys in negotiating for this summary trial format resulted in a significant cost savings to the firm’s clients.
The underlying plaintiffs asserted deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of an inmate at a county jail in purported violation of the inmate’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. The insurance company alleged that the lawyer, hired to defend the company’s insured, mishandled the underlying civil rights action thereby causing the case to settle for more money than it was worth. The insurance company filed a complaint against the firm’s clients praying for $1,700,000.00 in damages and asserting three causes of action: (1) negligence, (2) breach of contract and (3) vicarious liability against the law firm.
A legal malpractice plaintiff in Pennsylvania must prove – by a preponderance of the evidence – that a judgment would have been recovered in the underlying case “but for” the attorney’s alleged conduct before any evidence of legal malpractice may be introduced. With a victory in the underlying civil rights action in hand, Burns White attorneys filed a Motion to Enter Judgment as a Matter of Law in the instant legal malpractice action on behalf of the firm’s clients arguing that Plaintiff could not introduce sufficient evidence of causation and damages. The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania agreed and entered judgment in favor of the firm’s clients as a matter of law.