COA to hear legal malpractice appeal

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A woman who lost her legal malpractice case against a law firm she said failed to timely bring negligence and wrongful death claims against the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s office will have her day before the Indiana Court of Appeals next week.

The court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Lucy Mundia v. Drendall Law Office, P.C., 71A05-1610-PL-02388. A St. Joseph trial court granted summary judgment to the firm on Mundia’s legal malpractice claim. She argues the law office failed to file a tort claim notice with St. Joseph County and South Bend within the statutory timeframe after her 6-year-old daughter, Shirley, was killed by her husband, Edward Mwuara, after his release from jail.

Lucy and Shirley Mundia both had orders of protection against Mwuara, but a South Bend police report said he had a PO only as it pertained to Shirley. Mwuara was released from jail after violating an order, and less than 72 hours later, he came to the Mundias’ home, fatally stabbed Shirley, and seriously injured Lucy. Mundia claims the prosecutor’s office failed to properly investigate active protective orders before Mwuara was released.

 Mundia argues that the county admitted fault in a press release regarding the case, and that her legal malpractice claim would have been worth in excess of $1 million. Drendall, however, successfully argued to the trial court the police department and prosecutor’s office were immune from liability under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, so Drendall’s failure to file a Tort Claim Notice within the statutory 180-day period was not the proximate cause of her damages.

On appeal, Mundia argues the prosecutor’s office would not be immune under the ITCA because its decision to not charge and to release Mwuara was not a discretionary decision but was, instead, based upon the office’s failure to search for restraining orders based on the protected individuals. She also questioned the appropriateness of Drendall’s initial decision to file a negligence claim against the police department, acknowledging it would have had immunity under the ITCA.

Scheduled panel members are appellate judges Melissa May, Elaine Brown and Rudolph Pyle III.


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