In an intensely contested legal malpractice claim against a personal injury law firm represented by Goldberg Segalla, partner Albert J. D’Aquino and attorney Stephanie H. Cook secured summary judgment after waging a zealous defense highlighted by vigorous deposition questioning and the development of evidence in discovery.
The case stemmed from a multi-vehicle accident in Texas during which the plaintiffs — a husband and wife from New York — were injured while passengers in their daughter’s car.
Al and Stephanie — the co-chair of, and an attorney with, Goldberg Segalla’s Civil Litigation and Trial practice group, respectively — represented New York attorneys in the case who instructed the plaintiffs to retain counsel in Texas to handle the lawsuit in that state. When it came time for settlement negotiation, the New York attorneys acted as co-counsel.
While the insurer for the plaintiffs’ daughter refused to make any settlement offer based on the police report of the collision, the plaintiffs insisted their daughter was at fault and ‘should pay.’ Their attorney, however, advised the plaintiffs that a Texas jury would look at their position disapprovingly if they went to trial, especially given that the police report did not support their version of events.
Ultimately, the plaintiffs agreed to a substantial settlement from the at-fault defendant they sued. They then sued Goldberg Segalla’s client, arguing the New York attorneys “coerced” and “pressured” them into settling. The plaintiffs also claimed they had been ill-informed as to whether the statute of limitations against their daughter was about to expire, leaving them no time to consider their settlement options.
But under deposition questioning by Al and Stephanie, the plaintiffs admitted they did not want to return to Texas for trial “no matter what,” and that, in fact, the filing against their daughter was in place.
The applicable legal standard when settlements are challenged is whether a “mistake,” as defined by case law, had occurred by the handling attorney that compelled settlement because the strength of the case had been comprised by that “mistake.” Goldberg Segalla’s summary judgment motion, supported by an expert personal injury attorney’s affidavit, forcefully argued that no “mistake” occurred and that no applicable case law recognized a prima facie case of legal malpractice on these facts.
The court entertained lengthy oral argument and, afterward, issued a decision granting summary judgment and dismissing the complaint against Goldberg Segalla’s client.