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Judges rule on legal malpractice action

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The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that a man has standing to pursue his legal malpractice action, although issues of material fact preclude him from summary judgment as to the attorney’s liability for malpractice.

In Charles Price v. Delmar Kuchaes, No. 45A04-1007-CT-467, attorney Delmar Kuchaes claimed his former client Charles Price didn’t have standing to sue him for legal malpractice stemming from his representation in the Prices’ suit after Charles’ wife contracted polio after being exposed to someone recently vaccinated.

After Price lost his claim for loss of consortium due to failure to comply with notice requirements under Indiana law, Price filed a legal malpractice action against Kuchaes. The Prices then filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2007, but didn’t inform the bankruptcy court of this malpractice suit until they filed an amended petition in 2009. The bankruptcy case was later dismissed.

At a hearing, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Price as to Kuchaes’ liability for malpractice, but denied summary judgment on the amount of damages. It held Cathy Price’s injury was battery under Indiana law and Kuchaes failed to act as a reasonably prudent lawyer, and that failure was the proximate cause of damages incurred by Price. The trial court later granted Kuchaes’ dispositive motion for summary judgment. Both sides appealed.

Kuchaes argued Price doesn’t have standing to maintain the legal malpractice action because when he filed for bankruptcy, the trustee became the one to pursue the claim. The judges found that when the bankruptcy was dismissed in July 2009, that returned ownership of the action to Price, so he has standing to pursue his legal malpractice action.

Although the judges found it troubling that Price didn’t disclose his malpractice action initially in his bankruptcy filing, they concluded as a matter of law that the malpractice action isn’t barred by judicial estoppel as Kuchaes argued. They reversed summary judgment to Kuchaes and remanded for further proceedings on this issue.

The judges also concluded that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Price as to Kuchaes’ liability for malpractice. Price didn’t show that if Kuchaes had properly pursued the loss of consortium claim against the vaccine manufacturers he would have prevailed. There are also issues of material fact as to whether Price’s loss of consortium claims against the vaccine manufacturers and medical defendants would have been successful had Kuchaes properly pursued them.

The appellate court affirmed the denial of summary judgment for Price as to damages, and remanded for further proceedings.

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