Plaintiff v. Lawyers: Legal Malpractice Case nets $1.8 Million Recovery

The claims in this case arise out of a gas explosion at Plaintiffs’ New Hampshire vacation home in 2003, which resulted in the death of a five year old child. Prior to the date of the incident, the family had hired a restoration company to repair water damage to the property caused by flooding. The restoration company hired a subcontractor to replace cabinets and countertops in a basement kitchen.

During the course of the work, the subcontractor cut a propane gas line in order to move a stove, but did not cap off the line after it was cut, and instead simply shut off the gas line at the main propane tank. An explosion resulted when a family member turned on the gas to run a clothes dryer, not knowing that gas was flowing into the basement. The explosion occurred when the furnace came on while the whole family was upstairs watching a movie.

The family, who were Massachusetts residents, retained local attorneys to represent them in their personal injury claims and signed contingent fee agreements. Claims were filed and then dismissed in Massachusetts, and a new action was filed in New Hampshire with the assistance of a New Hampshire attorney. The After failing to timely respond to discovery requests, a default entered against the Plaintiffs, which eventually resulted in dismissal of the New Hampshire action against the Defendants who had insurance policies in effect.

Prior to the dismissal, the primary insurer had made a significant offer to settle all claims, but the offer was never conveyed to the family by their counsel, or the fact that the defaults had entered. Rather, the Massachusetts attorneys hired a third attorney to attempt to resurrect the case. This lawyer was also aware of the defaults and the dismissal, but never notified the family.

The family became aware of the situation of the case in New Hampshire, when a NH attorney sent an unsolicited letter, alleging that legal malpractice had been committed, based on the dismissal, and offering to assist the family. The family hired the Law Offices of Keith L. Miller, with another Massachusetts firm, to investigate and prosecute a legal malpractice case against the prior attorneys.

Demand was made and an agreement was reached to mediate all claims against all parties, including the parties dismissed from the New Hamphire action. A ten hour mediation ensued, using a prominent Boston trial lawyer as mediator, and the case settled. The family received a gross award of $1.8 Million.