Summary judgment affirmed in legal malpractice suit stemming from 2010 oil spill

By Charmaine Little | Feb 7, 2019

The State of Louisiana in the Court of Appeal for the First Circuit has affirmed a summary judgment despite challenges from a seafood company engaged in a legal malpractice case.

Brunswick Seafood Inc. is suing Smitko Law, APLC; The Law Offices of Jerri G. Smitko, APLC; Smitko & Ory, APLC; Jerri G. Smitko, and Catherine Gauthier for malpractice, but it was the defendants who were victorious when a lower court, the 32nd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Terrebonne, ruled in their favor and granted them summary judgment. Brunswick then appealed, but the appeals court confirmed on Jan. 8 that summary judgment was fitting.

Brunswick sued the defendants after its seafood dock and processing center experienced losses after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill back in April 2010. Brunswick and Green’s Oyster Co. hired the Law Offices of Jerri G. Smitko to represent them.

Brunswick received a $284,800 emergency payment via the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Brunswick also filed additional business economic claims (BEL claims) to the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center. The issue came when that claim mistakenly included some of the $284,800 as sales income for November 2010, which then boosted Brunswick’s seafood sales for the time following the oil spill.

Brunswick and Green in turn sued the defendants for legal malpractice, saying the accountant who worked for them was hired by the defendants to calculate the filing of the BEL claim. Brunswick appealed after the lower court granted the defendants summary judgment but, unfortunately for the company, the appeals court has done the same.

“We find that the Smitko defendants established that summary judgment was proper as to the third element of the plaintiffs’ legal malpractice claim, loss causation,” the appeals court pointed out. While the plaintiffs said the issue came as a result of the defendants' alleged negligence in heading the BEL claim, the defendants filed an affidavit from their professional CPA that listed the numerous reasons why Brunswick didn’t get more damages from the claims center.

It was then the plaintiffs’ responsibility to show that they suffered damages because of the defendants’ negligence, which the court said they failed do. Brunswick also filed a motion for a new trial, but the court said it lacked merit.

Justice Guy Holdridge authored the opinion. Justice Allison H. Penzato concurred and Justice Toni M. Higginbotham dissented. 

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