Attorney and law firm named in legal malpractice suit stemming from vehicle accident

By Jon Campisi | Sep 20, 2011

A North Wales, Pa. woman has filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against a Northwest Philadelphia law firm whose attorneys she hired to represent her in a vehicle accident case, but allegedly failed to pursue her claim.

Philadelphia attorneys Ronald A. Kovler and Charles J. Geffen, of the law firm of Kovler & Rush, P.C., filed the civil action Sept. 16 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Marci Hart.

Listed as defendants in the suit are attorney Michael S. Gressen, and his law firm, Belmont & Gressen.

According to the complaint, Hart had hired Gressen to represent her in a case stemming from a vehicle accident in February 2005, an incident that allegedly caused Hart to sustain various physical injuries, some requiring surgery.

The accident, which had taken place in Lansdale, Pa., occurred after Hart’s vehicle was struck in the rear by another driver, identified in the suit as Jacqueline Wolfe.

Wolfe and her husband were covered by an automobile insurance policy with Nationwide Insurance Company, while the vehicle Hart was driving was covered by a policy held by the owner of the vehicle Hart was operating at the time, the suit states.

At some point following the accident, Hart retained Gressen as legal counsel, the suit states. She was planning to pursue a claim against the couple who she alleges were responsible for the vehicle accident.

“Defendants had a duty to represent plaintiff with reasonable care, skill and diligence ordinarily possessed and exercised by other attorneys and law firms in Pennsylvania and/or the community in the practice area of personal injury,” the lawsuit states. “At all times relevant hereto defendants owed a fiduciary duty to plaintiff.”

In February 2007, the defendants filed a civil action on behalf of Hart against the Wolfes in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, the suit states. The following month, however, the defendants and Hart discovered the Wolfes could not be found.

Hart was eventually able to locate a new address for the Wolfes, the suit states, but the defendants failed to follow up on the information provided by their then-client.

“Defendants did not act independently to identify an address for the Wolfes, did not attempt any further service and/or failed to effectuate service on the Wolfes,” the suit claims. “Without any notification to plaintiff, defendants failed to further prosecute the action.”

In mid March 2008, attorneys for the Wolfes entered an appearance in the action commenced by Hart and the defendants, the suit states. The attorneys contacted the defendants and made “several overtures” to the defendants in an attempt to engage in settlement negotiations, but the defendants failed to respond.

In July 2009, counsel for the Wolfes filed a petition for entry of a judgment of no pros against the plaintiff, the suit states. In September 2009, the court issued an order OK’ing the judgment.

The defendants, the lawsuit claims, never notified Hart that the petition was filed and subsequently approved. The defendants never moved for reconsideration of the order nor did they file an appeal, the suit claims.

In the fall of 2009, Gressen contacted Hart about matters unrelated to her court case, the lawsuit states. When Hart inquired about the status of her case, Gressen told her the case was “in process.”

“At no time did Gressen inform plaintiff that her case had been dismissed and that no further action had been undertaken by defendants,” the lawsuit claims.

In January of this year, Hart contacted outside counsel to inquire about the possibility of hiring an attorney to replace Gressen, the suit states. It was at this time that she learned her case against the Wolfes had been dismissed.

“Defendants negligently and/or intentionally misrepresented to plaintiff that her cause against the Wolfes was active and being prosecuted,” the suit states.

The lawsuit contains counts of legal malpractice and negligence, as well as intentional/fraudulent misrepresentation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. There is also a punitive damages claim.

For each of the four counts listed, Hart seeks judgment in an amount in excess of $50,000, plus interest and delay damages.

A jury trial has not yet been requested.

The case number is 110901622.

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