Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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On November 4, 2016, Kernan had an External Cephalic Version (ECV) procedure to rotate her healthy 39-week fetus from a breech position. The hospital recorded the ECV as successful. Post-procedure fetal monitoring was “reassuring.” The next day, Kernan could not detect fetal movement and returned to the hospital. After an ultrasound, doctors informed Kernan that she had suffered an intrauterine fetal demise and that they could not determine the cause of death. They noted that nothing in the literature linked ECV with fetal demise. Kernan delivered a stillborn baby on November 7. The delivery doctor, Vargas, told Kernan that he could not see any indicators as to why Kernan’s baby died. Kernan eventually ordered an autopsy. After months of delay due to Dr. Vargas not responding to Kernan’s requests to review the autopsy report with her, Kernan met with Dr. Kerns on July 10, 2017, and learned that doctors had discussed her case during a morbidity and mortality conference. Kernan claims she first became subjectively suspicious of medical negligence during that meeting. On November 6, 2017, Kernan served notice of her intention to file suit. Within 90 days, she filed her negligence complaint.The court rejected the suit as time-barred under Code of Civil Procedure 340.5’s one-year limitations period. The court of appeal reversed. The hospital’s records demonstrate that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Kernan should have suspected negligent performance of the ECV on November 5, 2016. View "Kernan v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Wang sued her former attorney Nesse, alleging professional malpractice in his representation of Wang in her marital dissolution action. Following Nesse’s death, his estate moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Wang’s complaint, filed on December 21, 2015, was barred by the one-year statute of limitations, Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6. According to Nesse’s estate, although Wang and Nesse filed a substitution of attorney form on December 30, 2014, Nesse’s representation of Wang had actually ended earlier, on December 3 or December 17 at the latest, when Wang “discharged” Nesse or “consented” to his withdrawal. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. The court of appeal reversed. There is a triable issue of material fact as to whether Nesse continued to represent her on December 21, 2014, so Nesse’s estate failed to establish that the statute of limitations bars her complaint as a matter of law. View "Wang v. Nesse" on Justia Law

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For about 10 years Victaulic and three of its insurers, members of the American Insurance Group (AIG), have been engaged in litigation. One case is this lawsuit filed by Victaulic in 2012; in 2013, the Pillsbury law firm became counsel for Victaulic and has represented it since, ultimately winning a $56 million judgment. In 2018, that judgment was reversed based on a combination of errors by the trial judge. Following remand, Victaulic filed an amended complaint; the vigorous litigation continued. In 2021 the insurers learned that two attorneys who had done work for a claims-handling arm of AIG had recently joined the Pillsbury firm, about six years after they left employment at the earlier firm. The insurers moved to disqualify the lawyers and the Pillsbury firm, generating thousands of pages of pleadings, declarations, and exhibits, and two hearings.The trial court concluded that the insurers failed to meet their burden. The court of appeal affirmed. There was no showing that the two attorneys had any confidential information and no “direct professional relationship with the former client in which the attorney personally provided legal advice and services on a legal issue that is closely related to the legal issue in the present representation.” View "Victaulic Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed various claims against his Defendants, his former attorneys, claiming breach of contract and professional negligence. He also alleges that Defendants failed to advise him of the state’s Anti-SLAPP statute before filing a complaint against a newspaper publisher. Ultimately plaintiff’s Anti-SLAPP claim drew a special motion to strike, which he lost. This, Plaintiff claimed, deprived him of discovery he intended to use in a disciplinary proceeding pending against him in the United Kingdom. In turn, Plaintiff asserts this caused him to lose his law license and suffer other financial harm. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and Plaintiff appealed.The Second Appellate District reversed. While Plaintiff’s damages claims were too speculative because they were based on the outcome of disciplinary proceedings in the U.K., the trial court erred in failing to consider Plaintiff’s other claimed damages. An attorney owes a duty of care to advise a client of foreseeable risks of litigation before filing a lawsuit on the client’s behalf. Here, Plaintiff presented a viable claim that, had Defendants advised him of the potential consequences of filing his Anti-SLAPP case, he would have elected not to file the claim. View "Mireskandari v. Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP" on Justia Law

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Pappas sued Dr. Chang for malpractice. During mediation, they agreed that Chang would pay Pappas $100,000. Both parties and their counsel signed a settlement agreement, which provided that Pappas “will execute a release of all claims ... in a more comprehensive settlement agreement ... to include a provision for mutual confidentiality as to the facts ... the terms and amount of this agreement.” The parties unsuccessfully negotiated the “more comprehensive settlement agreement” and “provision for mutual confidentiality” for months. Pappas discharged her attorney and, representing herself, advised Chang’s attorney that she would only comply with a confidentiality provision if she received $525,000, then sued Chang for breach of contract.The trial court ruled against Pappas “because she has not signed a ‘more comprehensive settlement agreement’ and release which includes a provision for mutual confidentiality.” In consolidated appeals, the court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that a confidentiality provision would be against public policy and violate the Business and Professions Code. The court also rejected Chang’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of her attorney fees as costs of proof at trial (Code Civ. Proc., 2033.420) based on its finding that Pappas’s denial of two requests for admission was based on a good faith belief she would prevail at trial and that the requests went to the ultimate issue. View "Pappas v. Chang" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on when a lawyer's settlement demand crosses the line and becomes professional misconduct. Falcon Brands, Inc. and Coastal Harvest II, LLC (collectively Falcon) appealed an order granting respondent’s special motion to strike both causes of action in Falcon’s cross-complaint pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP law). The cross-complaint alleges extortion and intentional interference with a contract against attorney Amy Mousavi and her law firm, Mousavi & Lee, LLP (collectively Mousavi). Falcon argued Mousavi’s e-mail settlement demands, which were the focus of Falcon’s cross-complaint, were not entitled to protection under the anti-SLAPP law because they constituted illegal attempts to force Falcon into settling the underlying matter. The trial court rejected this argument and granted Mousavi’s anti-SLAPP motion. The Court of Appeal reversed as to the first cause of action for extortion because it concluded Mousavi’s e-mail settlement demands, when considered in context, were not protected speech in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Flatley v. Mauro, 39 Cal.4th 299 (2006). "Mousavi’s escalating series of threats ultimately transformed what had been legitimate demands into something else: extortion." The Court affirmed as to the second cause of action, intentional interference with a contract. That cause of action arose from Mousavi’s actual revelation of damaging information about Falcon to Falcon’s merger partner. Falcon did not contend the revelations were illegal as a matter of law. The revelations were made in furtherance of Mousavi’s contemplated litigation. The Court found the trial court correctly concluded the revelations were protected by the litigation privilege. Consequently, they were also protected by the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Falcon Brands, Inc. v. Mousavi & Lee, LLP" on Justia Law

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Nina’s was a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE) licensed by the Community Care Licensing Division (CCL) of the State Department of Social Services. Plaintiff, an RN-certified legal nurse consultant, was hired to assist with the closure of Nina’s and agreed to assess each of the residents and recommend a new facility, as required by RCFE closing procedures, Health and Safety Code 1569.682(a)(1)(A).Caregivers from the new RCFE, Frye’s, came to transfer J.N. They immediately noticed that J.N. was in significant pain; multiple bandages “stuck to [J.N.’s] skin and her wounds,” which “all smelled really bad.” J.N.’s toes were black. Frye’s caregivers called 911. J.N. died weeks later. A CCL investigator contacted plaintiff, who confirmed that he had performed J.N.’s assessment. Plaintiff later denied performing J.N.’s physical assessment, stating that Mia “was the one in charge.” He denied guiding or instructing Mia during the assessment, stating he only acted as a “scribe.” The ALJ found clear and convincing evidence that plaintiff committed gross negligence in connection with J.N.'s appraisal, unprofessional conduct in carrying out nursing functions in connection with the appraisal, and unprofessional conduct by not being truthful with the Board investigator regarding J.N.'s care provided.The court of appeal upheld the revocation of plaintiff’s nursing license. Substantial evidence supports the finding that plaintiff engaged in a “usual nursing function” when he performed J.N.’s resident appraisal. Plaintiff’s dishonesty during the investigation constitutes unprofessional conduct. View "Clawson v. Board of Registered Nursing" on Justia Law

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Letgolts and Plattner (plaintiffs) remodeled their home in 2008. The contractor, Pinchevskiy, did some demolition and then walked away, causing extensive damage to the home. The plaintiffs retained attorney Marks, who sued Pinchevskiy, the plaintiffs’ home insurer, and their insurance agent who allegedly inaccurately advised the plaintiffs that their existing homeowners' policy would cover possible property damage by Pinchevskiy. The complaint detailed property damage but did not mention personal injury. Marks withdrew from the case in 2012. The plaintiffs retained Pierce, who secured a default judgment against Pinchevskiy in 2015; his insurer, National, filed for liquidation before Pierce could collect on the judgment. Pinchevskiy was bankrupt.The plaintiffs sued Pierce for negligent delay in seeking recovery from National. Pierce’s lawyers argued the plaintiffs could never have prevailed against National because Pinchevskiy’s policy did not cover construction defects. The court entered judgment for Pierce. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting the plaintiffs’ attempt to assert a personal injury claim based on Plattner’s alleged 2008 fall from temporary stairs installed by Pinchevskiy. National’s policy did cover personal injuries but the tardy, uncorroborated claim was at odds with the detailed lists of problems given to the insurer years before. Pursuing insurance money from National was a lost cause from the start, so whether Pierce committed malpractice did not matter, View "Letgolts v. David H. Pierce & Associates PC" on Justia Law

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Mitchell swallowed 60 Naproxen tablets. With her husband, she arrived at the Hospital emergency department on May 27, 2017, alert, oriented, and with no acute distress. The physician noted no motor deficits or sensory deficits. A nurse placed an IV catheter in Mitchell’s forearm. Nearly two hours later, Mitchell walked to the toilet with assistance from her husband, then walked back to her bed without assistance. On the way back, Mitchell fell, causing abrasions to her face and severely injuring her knee. The nursing staff had no reason to suspect Mitchell presented a high fall risk because she did not complain of dizziness; they had no observed balance problems. An x-ray and CT scan of Mitchell’s knee showed serious injuries. Mitchell was referred to physical therapy and was discharged from Hospital.Mitchell filed her complaint, alleging general negligence and premises liability on May 17, 2019. The hospital argued that the complaint alleged professional negligence, rather than general negligence or premises liability, and was barred under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5’s one-year limitations period. Mitchell acknowledged that the condition of the floor did not contribute to her fall. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The nursing staff’s decision to not assist Mitchell in walking to the restroom was “integrally related” to her medical care. View "Mitchell v. Los Robles Regional Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Following a preliminary hearing, petitioner Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee was charged in an information with two counts of presenting a false or fraudulent health care claim to an insurer (a form of insurance fraud, counts 1-2), and three counts of perjury (counts 3-5). The superior court denied Banerjee’s motion to dismiss the information as unsupported by reasonable or probable cause. Banerjee petitioned for a writ of prohibition to direct the superior court to vacate its order denying his Penal Code section 995 motion and to issue an order setting aside the information. The Court of Appeal issued an order to show cause and an order staying further proceedings on the information, pending the Court's resolution of the merits of Banerjee’s petition. The State filed a return, and Banerjee filed a traverse. The State argued the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee committed two counts of insurance fraud and three counts of perjury, based on his violations of Labor Code section 139.3(a) between 2014 and 2016. During that period, Banerjee billed a workers’ compensation insurer for services he rendered to patients through his professional corporation and through two other legal entities he owned and controlled. The insurance fraud charges are based on Banerjee’s 2014-2016 billings to the insurer through the two other entities. The perjury charges were based on three instances in which Banerjee signed doctor’s reports, certifying under penalty of perjury that he had not violated “section 139.3.” Banerjee argued: (1) the evidence showed he did not violate the statute's referral prohibition; (2) even if he did not comply with section 139.3(e), the “physician’s office” exception to the referral prohibition applied to all of his referrals to his two other legal entities; and (3) the patient disclosure requirement of section 139.3(e), the referral prohibition of section 139.3(a), and the physician’s office exception to the referral prohibition were unconstitutionally vague. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) Banerjee did not violate section 139.3(a) by referring his patients to his two other legal entities; and (2) the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee specifically intended to present false and fraudulent claims for health care benefits, in violation of Penal Code section 550(a)(6), by billing the workers’ compensation insurer substantially higher amounts through his two other legal entities than he previously and customarily billed the insurer for the same services he formerly rendered through his professional corporation and his former group practice. Thus, the Court granted the writ as to the perjury charges but denied it as to the insurance fraud charges. View "Banerjee v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law