Tommy Hand sued the Prattville law firm of Howell, Sarto & Howell and William P. Roberts II, an attorney formerly employed by the Howell firm, asserting a claim under the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act based on their alleged negligent representation of him in an action seeking damages for personal injuries he suffered as a result of an automobile accident. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the Howell firm and Roberts; Hand appealed. On appeal, Hand argued that Roberts and the Howell firm committed legal malpractice when they failed to name the Montgomery Advertiser, which Hand labeled "the critical deep-pocket defendant" as a party in Hand's personal injury action. Hand argues that the failure devalued his case to the extent that he had to settle for approximately half of what the case was worth and for an amount significantly less than his actual economic damage, not to mention his pain and suffering. Because there was no evidence indicating, only speculation, that Hand would have been able to settle his injury claim for a higher amount if Roberts and the Howell firm had also named the Montgomery Advertiser as a defendant, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Roberts and the firm. View "Hand v. Howell, Sarto & Howell " on Justia Law
Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries
Rodgetta Colvin Jett n/k/a Octavia R. Cantelow-Jett ("Jett") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered against her in a legal-malpractice action against attorney James M. Wooten and his law firm, the Law Offices of James M. Wooten, P.C. ("Wooten P.C."). Jett was injured when she fell down the stairs while leaving a YMCA facility in Birmingham. Jett filed a legal-malpractice action against the Wooten defendants as a result of their failure to initiate legal actions on her behalf against the YMCA before the limitations period expired on those claims. The trial court thereafter entered a summary judgment in favor of the Wooten defendants, holding that Jett's claims against them were themselves barred by the two-year statute of limitations that applied to Alabama Legal Services Act (ALSA) claims because Jett did not initiate her action until December 30, 2010, more than two years after the two YMCA incidents. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ALSA tolled the statute of limitations and that the two-year period in which Jett could initiate an action against the Wooten defendants based on Wooten's failure to file actions against the YMCA did not begin to run until Jett discovered that Wooten had not filed the legal actions she alleged he told her he had filed. Accordingly, her lawsuit against the Wooten defendants was timely filed. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Jett v. Wooten" on Justia Law
Amy Hamilton, individually and on behalf of her stillborn son, sued Dr. John Blakely Isbell, Dr. Steven Coulter, Dr. Warren Scott, and the Isbell Medical Group (IMG), as well as several fictitiously named defendants, claiming that their negligent and wanton acts had wrongfully caused the death of her son and also caused her to suffer emotional distress. The DeKalb Circuit Court entered a summary judgment in favor of the defendants, holding that a wrongful-death action could not be maintained for the death of an unborn child who died before he was viable. The trial court also held that Hamilton was not in the "zone of danger" and, thus, could not recover damages for emotional distress. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed in part, and affirmed in part. The Court found that in applying "Mack v. Carmack," ([Ms. 1091040, Sept. 9, 2011] _So. 3d_ (Ala. 2011)), the Court concluded that summary judgment, insofar as it held that damages for the wrongful death of a previable unborn child were not recoverable "must be reversed" for reconsideration of the defendants' summary-judgment motions. View "Hamilton v. Scott" on Justia Law
Retired district judge M. John Steensland, Jr. appealed a judgment of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ) that publicly censured him for misconduct that preceeded his retirement. In 2008, Judge Steensland had begun to serve a six-year term when the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) began an investigation based on complaints of his courtroom conduct and demeanor filed by several parties that had come before the judge in prior cases. In 2010 while the JIC's investigation was ongoing, the Judge voluntarily retired from office. On appeal, Judge Steensland did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence or the nature of the discipline imposed. He merely renewed the grounds he originally asserted in his motion to dismiss the complaint: the absence of jurisdiction and the application of the doctrine of condonation. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the COJ did not err in entering its judgment against Judge Steensland, and accordingly affirmed that decision. View "Steensland, Jr. v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Comm'n" on Justia Law
Defendants Springhill Hospitals, Inc., Dennis Rushing, Ashley Flemming and Janel Ostriehmerer appealed a judgment entered in favor of Plaintiff Dimitrios Critopoulos. Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for a heart catheterization. While in the hospital's cardiac-intervention unit, Defendant Rushing noticed discoloration and blisters on Plaintiff's neck and spine. Nineteen days after he was admitted for cardiac care, Plaintiff was released from the hospital. Plaintiff was subsequently admitted to a different infirmary and treated for the discoloration and blisters, which were found to be ulcers. He filed a medical-malpractice action against Defendants for failing to treat the ulcers when he was under their care for the catheterization. Defendants alleged on appeal to the Supreme Court that errors at trial warranted a reversal of the outcome. The Supreme Court reviewed the trial court record and applicable authority, and concluded that the trial court exceeded its discretion when it ruled in favor of Plaintiff. The Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for the entry of a judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendants. View "Springhill Hospitals, Inc. v. Critopoulos " on Justia Law
Barbara Roberts sued Steve Lanier and his firm Steve Lanier, PC, and Rodney Stallings and his firm Coggin & Stallings, LLC. In 2006, Ms. Roberts was arrested on murder charges and sent to the Cherokee County jail. She contacted Attorney Lanier, who then met with her and agreed to represent her in her criminal proceedings. The contract between them provided that Ms. Roberts would pay a "nonrefundable retainer" of $50,000. At that time, Ms. Roberts executed a power-of-attorney authorizing Mr. Lanier to withdraw the retainer from her bank accounts. Ms. Roberts testified at trial that she first learned that Mr. Lanier was not licensed to practice law in Alabama when she appeared for her first hearing at the district court. It was then that she was introduced to Mr. Stallings, who "associated" on her case. Seeing no need for two lawyers, she tried to terminate Mr. Lanier's representation. Mr. Stallings eventually managed Ms. Roberts' case, having all her mail sent to his office so that he could "oversee every aspect" of her personal life, including payment of all outstanding bills and expenses. Ms. Roberts alleged that instead of using her money for the purposes she intended, Mr. Stallings misappropriated approximately $100,000 of her funds. Ms. Roberts was eventually convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. She later learned that the "nonrefundable retainer" language in her contract with Mr. Lanier was unenforceable under Alabama law, and sued her former lawyers for legal malpractice. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the lawyers. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the lawyers only with respect to employment contract and the "nonrefundable retainer" and the misappropriation of Ms. Roberts' money for expenses while she awaited trial. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.