Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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One Hope contracts with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to provide services with the objective of keeping troubled families together. Seven-month-old Marshana died while her family participated in One Hope’s program. The Cook County public guardian, as administrator of Marshana’s estate, filed a wrongful death case to recover damages against One Hope and Marshana’s mother,alleging that One Hope failed to protect Marshana from abuse or neglect and should not have allowed Marshana to be returned to her mother because of her unfavorable history and failure to complete parenting classes. Attorneys for the Public Guardian deposed the executive director of One Hope, who revealed the existence of a “Priority Review” report regarding Marshana’s case. The priority review process considers whether One Hope’s services were professionally sound, identifies “gaps in service delivery” and evaluates “whether certain outcomes have been successful or unsuccessful.” The Public Guardian moved to compel production of the report. One Hope argued that the report was protected from disclosure by the self-critical analysis privilege. The circuit court determined that the privilege did not apply. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Relevant legislative acts and omissions evince a public policy determination by the General Assembly that the type of information sought in discovery here is not subject to a “self-critical analysis privilege.” View "Harris v. One Hope United, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brunton sued her brother, Kruger, as trustee of the trusts established by their late parents and as representative of their estates, and individual family members. Brunton, who was not named a beneficiary of the trusts, alleged undue influence and her mother’s diminished capacity. The elder Krugers had consulted with an accounting firm (Striegel) for estate planning. They provided Striegel with confidential information about their family, income, assets, and goals. Striegel provided information to the attorney who prepared the Krugers’ trust documents and wills. Brunton and the Estates issued subpoenas seeking discovery of the information and documents. A CPA at Striegel complied with the Estates’ subpoenas, but did not provide the documents to Brunton. Striegel invoked the Illinois Public Accounting Act (225 ILCS 450/27), governing confidentiality of records. The circuit court ordered Striegel to produce tax documents, but held that the estate planning documents were privileged. Brunton then issued deposition subpoenas to a Striegel CPA and a non-CPA employee, seeking production of the estate planning documents. The court again found the estate planning documents privileged, but held that Striegel had waived the privilege by providing the documents to the representative of the Estates. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The privilege belongs to the accountant, not the client, and there is no testamentary exception to the privilege, but the accountant waived the privilege by disclosing information to one party. He cannot claim the privilege to avoid disclosure of the same information to the other party. View "Brunton v. Kruger" on Justia Law

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Tuzzolino and his law firm represented Coletta. Coletta alleged that, in litigation, Tuzzolino failed to timely disclose expert witnesses; failed to retain needed expert witnesses; advised Coletta to settle for an amount far less than Coletta’s losses; told Coletta that negotiations were continuing after dismissal; and signed settlement documents without informing Coletta. According to Coletta, Tuzzolino offered to pay $670,000 to settle any potential malpractice claim, but never paid. Three months later, shortly before the expiration of the firm’s 2007-08 malpractice policy with ISBA Mutual, Tuzzolino completed a renewal application. In response to: “Has any member of the firm become aware of a past or present circumstance(s), act(s), error(s) or omission(s), which may give rise to a claim that has not been reported?” Tuzzolino checked “no.” Mutual issued the policy. Tuzzolino’s partner, Terpinas, learned of Tuzzolino’s malfeasance a month later, when he received a lien letter from Coletta’s attorney. Terpinas reported the claim to Mutual, which sought rescission and other relief. The circuit court entered summary judgment against Tuzzolino and rescinded the policy, finding that Mutual had no duty to defend Terpinas or the firm against Coletta’s action. The appellate court reversed as to Terpinas, citing the common law “innocent insured doctrine.” The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the rescission, citing 215 ILCS 5/154, which allows rescission in cases involving misrepresentations “made by the insured or in his behalf,” with an actual intent to deceive or that “materially affect the acceptance of the risk or hazard assumed by the insurer.” View "Ill. State Bar Ass'n Mut. Ins. Co. v. Law Office of Tuzzolino & Terpinas" on Justia Law

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The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (Department) permanently revoked the health care licenses of physicians (plaintiffs) pursuant to the Department of Professional Regulation Law (20 ILCS 2105/2105-165) as a result of plaintiffs’ prior misdemeanor convictions for battery and criminal sexual abuse of their patients. The circuit court of Cook County dismissed their challenges. The appellate court and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting claims that the Act: did not apply to individuals who were convicted of a triggering offense prior to the Act’s effective date; was impermissibly retroactive and impaired certain fundamental rights, in violation of substantive due process; violated procedural due process; was unenforceable based on the res judicata effect of the previous discipline imposed by the Department; violated federal and state constitutional protections against double jeopardy; violated the constitutional prohibition against bills of attainder; violated the federal takings clause; and violated federal and state constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto law. View "Hayashi v. IL Dep't of Fin. & Prof'l Regulation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs purchased FCH stock through Shearson’s broker, Steinberg, between 1987 and 1990. FCH filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Plaintiffs retained the law firm to represent them in claims under the Illinois Securities Law. At that time, they had a viable claim for rescission. The firm failed to serve the required rescission notice. In 1992, plaintiffs hired new counsel to pursue their claims against Shearson, which were later dismissed as time-barred. In 1994 plaintiffs filed a malpractice action against the law firm. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the Illinois Securities Law claim, but reversed as to common law fraud and violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. In 2007, plaintiffs settled those claims for $3.2 million. Later, the trial court found the law firm liable and calculated damages: plaintiffs’ $3.2 million settlement would be deducted from the total they paid for their 11 stock purchases, and 10% interest would be calculated on the remaining amount based on the dates of the stock purchases, for a total award of $4,091,752.19 plus attorney fees of $1,636,700.80, and $207,167.28 in costs and expenses. The appellate court affirmed, but remanded for recalculation of damages and attorney fees. The Illinois Supreme Court remanded for calculation of statutory interest damages on the full amount paid for each security from the date of purchase to the 2007 date of settlement, then deducting the $3.2 million recovery. View "Goldfine v. Barack, Ferrazzano, Kirschbaum & Perlman" on Justia Law

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Powell was adjudicated a disabled adult due to severe mental disabilities in 1997. His parents, Perry and Leona, were appointed as co-guardians of Powell’s person, but were not appointed as guardians of his estate. In 1999, Perry died following surgery. Leona engaged the Wunsch law firm to bring a claim against the doctors and hospital, Leona was appointed special administratrix of Perry’s estate. Wunsch filed a complaint under the Wrongful Death Act on behalf of Leona individually and as administratrix estate. The estate’s only asset was the lawsuit. A 2005 settlement, after attorney fees and costs, amounted to $15,000, which was distributed equally between Leona, Emma (the couple’s daughter) and Powell. The settlement order provided that Powell’s share was to be paid to Leona on Powell’s behalf. Leona placed both shares into a joint account. The probate court was not notified. Wunsch had referred the action to attorney Webb, for continued litigation. Emma waived her rights under a second settlement, Leona and Powell each received $118,000. A check was deposited into the joint account. The order did not provide that Powell’s was to be administered under supervision of the probate court and Powell did not have a guardian of his estate. Wunsch purportedly advised that it was “too much trouble” to go through the probate court for funds every time Leona needed money for Powell. In 2008, Emma petitioned to remove Leona as guardian of Powell’s person. The probate court appointed Emma as guardian of Powell’s person and the public guardian as guardian of his estate. Leona had withdrawn all but $26,000 and provided no accounting. The public guardian sued the attorneys and Leona. The trial court dismissed as to the attorneys, finding that the complaint failed to sufficiently allege defendants owed Powell a duty and to allege proximate cause. The appellate court determined that an attorney retained by a special administrator of an estate to bring a wrongful death action for the benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin owed a fiduciary duty to those beneficiaries and remanded, with respect to the second settlement. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re the Estate of Powell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Dr. Murphy and his employer, ECHO, alleging that Murphy was negligent in treating Anderson, who suffered a severe and permanent brain injury following emergency room treatment. ECHO billed Anderson for services physicians provided him during a previous emergency room visit, but did not bill for Murphy’s services during the Code Blue that resulted in his injury. The hospital billed Anderson for supplies used during the Code Blue. The circuit court concluded that Murphy was immune from liability under the Good Samaritan Act, 745 ILCS 49/25. The appellate court reversed, holding that the Act was meant to apply to volunteers, not to those who treat patients within the scope of their employment and are compensated for doing so. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The Act provides “Any person licensed under the Medical Practice Act of 1987 or any person licensed to practice the treatment of human ailments in any other state or territory of the United States who, in good faith, provides emergency care without fee to a person, shall not, as a result of his or her acts or omissions, except willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person, in providing the care, be liable for civil damages.” Murphy was fully compensated for his time that day. He responded to the emergency not because he was volunteering to help but because it was his job to do so. The agreement that ECHO had with the hospital and the agreement that ECHO had with Murphy require that ECHO physicians to comply with hospital policies, and the hospital’s written policy was that emergency room physicians were to respond to Code Blues. The legislature never intended that Good Samaritan immunity would be available in this situation. View "Home Star Bank & Fin. Servs. v. Emergency Care & Health Org., Ltd." on Justia Law

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In the underlying litigation, the attorney represented a contractor being sued for job-site injuries and was later sued by the contractor’s insurance company for signing settlement agreements without authority. Section 13-214.3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/13-214.3, sets forth a six-year statute of repose for “action[s] for damages based on tort, contract, or otherwise … against an attorney arising out of an act or omission in the performance of professional services.” The trial court held that the provision barred claims for breach of implied warranty of authority, fraudulent misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation against the attorney. The appellate court reversed, finding that the statute of repose did not apply to an action brought by a non-client of the defendant-lawyer for a cause of action other than legal malpractice. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the dismissal, stating that under the plain, unambiguous language of the statute, the claims “arose out of” the attorney’s actions “in the performance of professional services.” View "Evanston Ins. Co. v. Riseborough" on Justia Law

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Hernandez developed Parkinson’s disease, allegedly as the result of his exposure to chemicals at Central Steel, where he worked from 1968 to 1995. From 1995 to 1996, Hernandez was represented by a firm that filed a social security disability claim. From 1999 to 2002, he was represented by Bernstein, Grazian and Volpe, who filed a 1999 workers’ compensation claim, alleging chemical exposure at work. A third law firm was retained in 2004 and filed suit for civil damage recovery, strict product liability and negligence lawsuit against various companies involved in the manufacture and sale of those chemicals; that suit dismissed as time-barred. Hernandez alleged that the Bernstein firm should have advised him that he had other ways to recover beyond seeking workers’ compensation benefits and should have advised that he file a legal malpractice action against the first law firm for its failure to file a product liability suit. In 2009 the circuit court dismissed on grounds of res judicata. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the elements of res judicata had not been proven. View "Hernandez v. Pritikin" on Justia Law

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The attorney, admitted to practice in Illinois in 1969, was the subject of a 2004 Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission complaint following convictions relating to driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while his license was revoked. The state Supreme Court issued an order suspending him from the practice of law for a period of 18 months, and ordering him to reimburse the Disciplinary Fund for any client protection payments arising from his conduct. In 2007 the ARDC charged him with misrepresentation to a tribunal and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law during his suspension. The Hearing Board found proven misconduct and recommended suspension for two years, but the Review Board recommended dismissal of the charges. The Supreme Court suspended him for one year. While the violations primarily involved representation of the attorney's own bankrupt company and occurred within days of the suspension, the attorney attempted to conceal the misconduct and refused to admit wrongdoing. View "In re: Thomas" on Justia Law