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Attorney(s) for Plaintiff:
Joseph M. Toddy
Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer & Toddy, P.C.

$97,717 VERDICT PLUS $170,000 IN LEGAL FEES – Legal Malpractice – Defendant attorney fails to obtain requested information regarding social security disability payments and information regarding work history of individual who unsuccessfully applied for work with trucking company and who brought ADA action against trucking company – Trucking company contends failure of attorney to obtain documents results in it being pressured by carrier to settle underlying ADA suit for $50,000 – This amount plus approximately $46,000 in increased premiums stemming from settlement of underlying suit awarded by jury.

Morris County, NJ

The underlying case in this legal malpractice action involved an individual who, after being denied employment by a trucking company, which was the plaintiff in this legal malpractice action, had brought an ADA case against the trucking company. In the underlying case, the applicant, who had undergone a kidney transplant several years earlier, maintained that he had been unlawfully denied employment because of a disability. The trucking company contended that the applicant was receiving Social Security Disability benefits at the time he was desirous of working for it, and that the applicant could not properly work at the time in question.

The plaintiff trucking company asserted that it asked the defendant attorney to obtain records from SSA that confirmed that the applicant was receiving benefits and to also obtain documents from a previous employer that would clear up a question as to whether the applicant had worked for this prior employer. The plaintiff trucking company maintained that the defendant attorney negligently failed to obtain these documents and shortly before the scheduled trial of the ADA action, the carrier sent a Suit Status Report in which it advised the trucking company that there was only a 40% chance of winning the trial, with a probable verdict in the suit of $200,000 to $300,000 and probable attorney fees of $150,000 to $200,000. The carrier also sent a “Hammer letter” on the eve of trial, informing the plaintiff trucking company that unless it settled the ADA case for $50,000, it would not pay additional defense costs and fees and would not indemnify it over $50,000. The plaintiff then settled the ADA case for $50,000.

The evidence disclosed that the trucking company owed approximately $36,000 to the underlying defendant law firm for this and two other cases, which it refused to pay. The plaintiff trucking company proposed a solution in which the claim by the law firm for these fees would be withdrawn and the matter resolved. The law firm then brought suit for the attorney fees allegedly due and owing and the plaintiff trucking company brought this legal malpractice counter-claim.

The trucking company's expert attorney contended that if the appropriate documents had been obtained, it was very likely that the trucking company would have prevailed in the ADA case and in addition to saving the $50,000 in the settlement of the ADA case, it would have also avoided an increase in insurance premiums.

The jury found for the plaintiff trucking company and awarded $94,717, which included both the $50,000 paid in the underlying settlement and the increase in premiums. The jury also found for the trucking company on the law firm's claim for approximately $36,000 in legal fees. The plaintiff also made a motion for attorney fees in this legal malpractice action, and the Court subsequently awarded $170,000.

Plaintiff's legal expert: Peter Ouda, Esq. from Somerville, NJ.

Keystone Freight Company vs. Defendant employment law firm.

Attorney for plaintiff trucking company: Joseph M. Toddy of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer & Toddy, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA.

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