Seattle Senior Counsel Petra Ambrose Obtains Summary Judgment Dismissal in Legal Malpractice Action

November 2020

Seattle Senior Counsel Petra Ambrose recently obtained a full Summary Judgment Dismissal of a Legal Malpractice Action against her clients, a prominent Seattle area personal injury attorney and his firm, in which the plaintiff was seeking over $12 million dollars in damages.  The Complaint alleged claims for Legal Malpractice and Breach of Fiduciary Duty in relation to her former attorney’s handling of her underlying personal injury/pharmacy negligence action against a pharmacy which filled the incorrect type of lithium medication (“underlying action”).  In the underlying action, the plaintiff claimed the incorrect medication resulted in memory loss, permanent brain injury, hallucinations, and other lithium toxicity symptoms, and further alleged she was involved in a car accident from hallucinations she had suffered.  The car accident injuries necessitated two spinal surgeries, including a cervical fusion. 

The plaintiff argued, inter alia, that her former attorney improperly settled the underlying action without her authority.  The plaintiff, however, refused to sign the settlement and release agreement, claiming her attorney did not have her authority to settle. The court in the underlying action denied her former attorney’s Motion to Enforce Settlement, finding that the prerequisites to settlement had not been satisfied because plaintiff refused to sign the settlement and release agreement.  Shortly thereafter, plaintiff’s former attorney withdrew from representation after learning that the plaintiff had been lying to him about the merits of the underlying case, as required by Washington’s Rules of Professional Conduct.  Six months after her former attorney’s withdrawal, the plaintiff, acting pro se, voluntarily signed the settlement and release agreement for the very same amount for which her former attorney had settled the case. 

The Court granted summary judgment dismissal in the malpractice action, finding that the plaintiff had failed to prove the essential elements of proximate causation and damages.  The Court was convinced by the argument that any purportedly improper settlement her former attorney had accepted without her authority, was not proximately caused by her former attorney’s acts or omissions.  The Court found that Plaintiff’s voluntary settlement, while acting pro se, and six months after her former attorney withdrew, cut off any causal link.  Additionally, the Court found, in accordance with Ms. Ambrose’s argument, that the plaintiff’s claimed damages were too speculative, and that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to opine regarding the same.