A legal malpractice case that resulted in a $675,000 jury verdict against Edwardsville medical malpractice attorney John Hopkins has been reversed and remanded to Madison County with directions to transfer the case to Alexander County, by the Illinois Appellate Court.
Hopkins appealed the case after a jury ruled in 2003 that the settlement he negotiated for his client was not fair and reasonable.
David Merritt, Sr. of Alexander County hired Hopkins to represent him in May 1998 for the wrongful death of his 6-year-old son, David Jr., who died from injuries he sustained in an automobile accident.
On Nov. 18, 1999, Merritt settled his wrongful death claim for $200,000.
In June 2001, John Simmons, a former employee of the firm, Hopkins Goldenberg, contacted Merritt, learned of the settlement and introduced Merritt to plaintiff's attorney Morris Chapman.
Chapman filed a legal malpractice claim against the firm Hopkins Goldenberg, and the individual attorneys on July 3, 2001.
The suit alleged that the defendants committed malpractice by failing to adequately investigate the claim, improperly advising David Merritt, Sr. that $200,000 was a fair and adequate settlement, and adequately preparing the necessary medical data and testimony to make a proper disposition of the claim.
On Oct. 31, 2003, the defendants filed a motion to transfer venue from Madison County to Alexander County, however, Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis denied that motion on the eve of trial.
At the trial in November 2003, Hopkins testified he investigated the accident, prepared and filed the 21-page complaint, conducted written and oral discovery, issued trial subpoenas and prepared jury instructions for trial.
Hopkins acknowledged that he did not take statements in the underlying case and that the legal research he completed was stored in his memory, not the file.
During the hearing at the appellate court, Daniel F. Konicek and Jeffrey T. Mitchell, of Konicek & Dillon in Geneva--lawyers who represented Hopkins--argued that Kardis erred when he denied Hopkins motion for a directed verdict and also that the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Appellate Judge Terrance Hopkins wrote the opinion for the court.
“The plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence that Hopkins breached the standard of care he owed to his client," Judge Hopkins wrote.
"However, considering the particular circumstances in the present case, the plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that but for Hopkins' breach of the standard of care, the plaintiffs would have received an amount in excess of $200,000 for their wrongful-death-of-a-minor claim, properly filed in Alexander County.
“We therefore find that the jury's verdict was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and that the circuit court should have granted a new trial.
“We also find that the appropriate forum for this legal malpractice case was Alexander County. The plaintiffs were residents of Alexander County, the underlying vehicle accident occurred in Alexander County, the settlement was approved by the circuit court of Alexander County, and the defendants' expert, Johnson, practiced law from his office in Alexander County.”
“The circuit court abused its discretion by denying the defendants' motion to transfer the case to Alexander County. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's judgment on the jury's verdict and remand the cause to the circuit court with directions to transfer the case to Alexander County for a new trial, pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens.”