Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Legal Malpractice

/ 09.Jan, 2014
Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren

Tippi Hedren, the actress best known for her part in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, recently had a nearly $1.5 legal malpractice verdict affirmed on appeal.  Ms. Hedren was injured on set in June 2006, when a tarp holding a gallon of water gave way and dropped on her head.  In a Hitchcock like twist, the accumulation of water was blamed on a bird’s nest blocking a condensation tube in an air conditioning system.  Ms. Hedren alleged the water caused a return of recurring headaches (Ms. Hedren had spinal fusion prior to 2006 to treat her chronic headaches). In October 2006, Ms. Hedren retained Joseph D. Allen, Esquire to represent her in a personal injury action against the owner and lessee of the sound stage where the injury occurred.  A timely complaint was filed in March of 2007.  Thereafter, Mr. Allen entered into an agreement to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice, but did not obtain an agreement tolling the statute of limitations.  It is not clear from the court opinion why Mr. Allen agreed to dismiss.  When Mr. Allen refiled the lawsuit, a demurrer was sustained on the basis of the statute of limitations. In the legal malpractice action, Mr. Allen conceded negligence, and the trial “essentially involved trying the underlying case to determine what Hedren reasonably could have expected to recover but for Allen’s negligence.”  The jury awarded Ms. Hedren $1,483,708, which included $213,400 for past lost earnings; $170,000 for future medical expenses; $440,308 for future lost earnings and lost earning capacity; $300,000 for past noneconomic loss, including physical pain and mental suffering; and $360,000 for future noneconomic loss, including physical pain and mental suffering. On appeal, Mr. Allen argued the court erred in refusing to instruct on superseding causation and comparative fault.  Mr. Allen also argued Ms. Hedren’s medical expert’s opinion on causation had no basis.  Finally, Mr. Allen argued the court erred in allowing speculative expert testimony regarding economic loss, and that the jury’s award was excessive as a matter of law.  The California Court of appeals rejected all of Mr. Allen’s arguments and affirmed the award. Failure to calendar, know deadlines, and/or timely file consistently account for nearly a third of all legal malpractice actions.  Malpractice avoidance requires counsel be aware of the applicable statute of limitations. –Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire