May Wrap Up — FedEx, Divorce, Dewey and Claims Made Triggers

U.S. Postal Service or FedEx?

An Indiana Woman learned that her decision to send a letter via FedEx may have caused her to miss a deadline to file a malpractice claim.  Bonnie Moryl filed a malpractice lawsuit against an Indiana hospital for their alleged role in her husband’s death.  She mailed the suit using FedEx the day before the two year statute of limitations expired.  The letter arrived the day AFTER the statute of limitations expired.

Ms. Moryl argued that by placing the letter with a third party postal carrier, she met the deadline.  The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled against her, explaining that Indiana law states that only registered or certified mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service counted.  FedEx was not good enough.

While this case may be appealed again, and it deals specifically with Indiana State law, it brings to mind the importance of attorneys meeting deadlines for clients.  It is a best practice to use only certified mailings – especially with deadlines are close and when missing such a deadline could lead to a malpractice lawsuit against the attorney’s firm.

Coverage Issues with Estate Referral

New York attorney Roger Giuliani found himself facing four claims after referrals to financial planners went wrong.  This is following a judgement against him for a similar claim in 2004.

Giuliani was sending out mass mailers to seniors offering estate planning services, the people that responded were referred to a financial planner who later defrauded four of them. The attorney malpractice insurance claims came in over two policy periods – one insured by Fireman’s Fund and the other by Zurich.

American Guarantee (Zurich) sued Chicago Insurance Company (Fireman’s Fund) in an attempt to deny coverage for two claims filed under their policy. Fireman’s Fund unsuccessfully argued that the second two claims were the “same or related” to the two earlier claims reported to Zurich.

The case is a good reminder of how the reporting of events under claims made policies can dramatically influence how coverage responds.  Since claims made policy language is standard on lawyer’s malpractice insurance, as well as all directors and officers and employment practice insurance, it is important to understand the implications of this policy language on a firm’s practice.

Appellate Decision Highlights Risk of Divorce Case Work

A Texas Appellate count reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled against a divorce lawyer in a dispute.  The primary reason for the initial dispute was the lawyer’s lack of care in showing that the couple’s residence was community property as opposed to the husband’s property.

The wife alleged that failure to file documentation surrounding the home’s ownership and failure to show that the wife deserved a portion of the equity gave way to the malpractice suit against the Texas lawyer.  The appellate court said the house was the husband’s, but the equity was partially the wife’s due to home equity loan documents.

Divorce work brings a high rate of lawsuits against attorneys.  Since emotions are highly involved in each case, it is important for an attorney to document their file well and to exhaust all possible avenues for the client.

Greenberg Traurig Settles Two Suits

Heller Ehrman, the bankrupt construction law firm, secured a $4.9M settlement from Greenberg Traurig over an undisclosed conflict of interest that lead to a “chaotic, disorderly” bankruptcy process in December 2008. It was alleged that Greenberg did not confirm the Bank of America’s security interest in Heller’s assets and having done so would have revealed that BOA had terminated their interest. Bank of America was a long time creditor of Greenberg.

The second suit was brought by 215 current and former female shareholders who claimed the firm violated the Equal Pay Act by systematically underpaying women. The class was seeking $200M.

Dewy & LeBoeuf Settle Claim for $19.5M

The chairman and insurer of  now defunct law firm Dewey & Lebouef has settled a lawsuit over mismanagement of the firm for $19.5M.  The firm’s directors and officers (D&O) insurance is covering most of this amount, which highlights the importance for D&O coverage as a firm grows or takes on debt.

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