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COA reaffirms legal malpractice suit may proceed

June 13, 2017

After granting rehearing to clarify the difference between the instant legal malpractice case and previous malpractice caselaw, the Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday reaffirmed its previous decision to deny summary judgment to a northern Indiana law firm.

After a February opinion reversed summary judgment in their favor on Elizabeth Roumbos’ legal malpractice case, Samuel Vazanellis and the law firm Thiros and Stracci, PC, sought rehearing. Roumbos brought the legal malpractice case after she tripped on wires while visiting her husband at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lake County, and the firm failed to file her negligence claim within the relevant statute of limitations.

Vazanellis and the firm took particular issue with the Court of Appeals’ rejection of their argument that Roumbos’ testimony was equivocal. Specifically, the court found that “it is clear from the totality of her testimony that at all times Roumbos identified the wires as the cause of her fall.”

In its petition for rehearing, the firm likened the facts of its case to those in Central Indiana Podiatry, P.C. v. Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, 71 N.E.3d 92 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), and in a Tuesday opinion Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Edward Najam wrote the court would grant rehearing to distinguish the facts of the instant case from those in Podiatry and its predecessor, Gaboury v. Ireland Road Grace Brethren, Inc., et al, 446 N.E.2d 1310 (Ind. 1983).

The firm argued Roumbos had made contradictory statements, making summary judgment improper under Podiatry andGaboury. But Najam rejected that notion, writing the statements the firm references are not contradictory, so Podiatry and Gaboury are not controlling here.

Specifically, Najam said the statements the firm references are not contradictory because they are not in response to the same question. The first question relates to which foot came into contact with the wires, while the second question pertained more explicitly to the details of the fall, but not the specific foot the cause the fall, he said.

But in Podiatry and Gaboury, there was an explicit contradiction in statements, the judge said.

“The facts in this case are strikingly different than those in Podiatry and Gaboury, as in those cases the two statements at issue were unquestionably contradictory, and in this case they are decidedly less so,” he wrote.

Thus, the original opinion in Elizabeth Roumbos v. Samuel G. Vazanellis and Thiros and Stracci, PC, 45A03-1606-CT-1424, was affirmed in all respects.

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