Morgan & Morgan Must Pay $5M For Bungling Med Mal Case

By Y. Peter Kang

Law360 (October 30, 2018, 8:51 PM EDT) -- A Florida state jury has awarded $5 million to a couple who accused a Morgan & Morgan PA attorney of botching a medical malpractice suit over brain damage suffered by their baby after his birth.

Following a nearly four-week legal malpractice trial and 16 hours of deliberations over two days, the Sarasota County Circuit Court jury found that Morgan & Morgan attorney Armando Lauritano negligently handled a suit lodged on behalf of Rock and Shawna Pollock accusing Gulf Coast Obstetrics & Gynecology Ltd. and others of causing their son Rock Jr.'s severe brain damage during childbirth, according to the Oct. 17 verdict form.

The jury was required to first determine that the health care providers were indeed negligent and then found that Lauritano's negligence prevented the Pollocks from recovering damages of $1 million and $4 million, respectively, according to the verdict form.

An attorney for the Pollocks, Donald St. Denis of St. Denis & Davey PA, said Morgan & Morgan made missteps from the outset of the underlying case.

"Morgan & Morgan failed the Pollocks miserably from the moment they took on this case," St. Denis said in a statement. "They ignored the big picture, focusing on a big injury verdict for their firm with Rock Jr., and turned their backs on his parents."

In a statement, Morgan & Morgan founder John Morgan said they plan to appeal the verdict.

"We defended this case because we think we are right. We still believe we are right," he said. "We have never ever had a verdict against our firm. We fully expect to win outright on appeal and have a judgment entered by the appellate courts in our favor."

St. Denis told Law360 on Tuesday that the verdict is the largest legal malpractice award he has ever obtained in a case that went to a jury. He added that because his clients' $2.5 million settlement offer was rejected by Morgan & Morgan in 2016, under Florida law Morgan & Morgan is on the hook to pay the Pollocks' attorneys' fees of $1.2 million and costs of $400,000.

"I think the jury was very offended with how the lawyer for Morgan & Morgan just couldn't

get his story straight," said St. Denis. "[Lauritano] was caught in a lie, and the jury didn't believe him and didn't put any liability on anybody but him."

A hearing on fees and other issues is set for December, according to court records.

In the underlying suit, the Pollocks alleged that Gulf Coast, its certified nurse midwife Laura Danner and Sarasota Memorial Hospital failed to timely order an emergency C-section after Shawna began experiencing complications following the administration of a labor-inducing drug.

The baby was deprived of oxygen as a result and suffered a permanent and severe brain injury, while Shawna suffered a ruptured uterus and can now no longer be intimate with her husband, according to court papers.

The couple alleged that because Lauritano was so focused on obtaining a large contingency fee from the baby's catastrophic injury, he neglected to file the necessary paperwork for the alleged injuries sustained by Shawna and Rock Sr. and allowed the statute of limitations period on those claims to expire.

The Pollocks also asserted that after learning the baby would qualify for no-fault benefits from the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, Lauritano withdrew as counsel and because the limitations period had already expired, no attorney would agree to take up their case.

The Pollocks are represented by Donald W. St. Denis and Eric M. Bradstreet of St. Denis & Davey PA.

Lauritano and the firm are represented by Thomas Saieva and Lesley A. Stine of La Cava & Jacobson PA, Dinah Stein of Hicks Porter Ebenfeld & Stein and Scott M. Whitley of Morgan & Morgan PA.

The case is Rock Pollock Sr. et al. v. Morgan & Morgan PA et al., case number 2011 CA 008757 NC, in the Circuit Court, 12th Judicial Circuit, in and for Sarasota County, Florida.

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