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Georgia Jury Awards $325,000 to Prisoner's Widow in Legal Malpractice Case

Georgia Jury Awards $325,000 to Prisoner's Widow In Legal Malpractice Case

On July 13, 2002, a Carroll Counrty, Georgia, jury awarded $325,000 to the widow of a prisoner who allegedly died due to medical malpractice and neglect. The verdict was against a law firm that first agreed to file a medical malpractice suit on a contingency basis, then refused to file the suit without prepayment of $50,000.

Clarence Kimbrell was a Georgia state prisoner with a history of heart disease. In early April, 1993, he suffered a diabetic convulsion which the prison's medical department failed to treat. On April 9, 1993, he was found dead of a heart attack.

Linda Kimbrell, Clarence's widow, contacted the law firm of Johnson, Beckman & Dangle (now known as Johnson, Word & Simmons). William P. Johnson, a deceased former partner in the firm, told Linda that she had a good case against the state for medical malpractice and neglect. In May 1993, she signed a contingency fee agreement with the firm.

The firm allegedly kept Linda's case file for two years then, in April 1995three days before the statute of limitations was to run, Johnson called Linda and told her he would not file the suit unless she agreed to advance him $50,000 for experts and litigation expenses. Johnson allegedly already had a complaint drafted and expert witness affidavit, but told Linda that the limitations would run in two days and there was no way she could "get another lawyer if she didn't pay him."

Linda didn't pay and the suit was forever barred by the statute of limitations. Linda contacted attorney Taylor W. Jones who filed a legal malpractice suit against Johnson's estate and Brian L. Howell, a former firm associate who researched the case for Johnson.

After a settlement offer of $50,000 was rejected, Linda took the case to a jury trial with a demand of $300,000. The jury found that Johnson and Howell committed legal malpractice and awarded Kimbrell $325,000, rejecting the argument that Kimbrell had no valid medical malpractice case because the state is immune from suit under the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA) based on discretionary medical care provided prisoners. The trial judge instructed the jury that the GTCA does not apply to the doctor, an independent contractor. The defense attorney said the firm would appeal based on the GTCA issue. See: Kimbrell v. Johnson & Howell, Carroll County No. 99-V-218.

Source: National Jury Verdict Reporter

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Related legal case

Kimbrell v. Johnson and Howell