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Garcia v. Kozlov, Seaton, Romanini & Brooks, P.C.

Supreme Court of New Jersey
845 A.2d 602 (2004)


Facts

Karen Garcia (plaintiff) was injured in a motor-vehicle accident involving five vehicles and four other drivers. Garcia hired Kozlov, Seaton, Romanini & Brooks, P.C. (Kozlov) (defendant) to represent her in litigation resulting from the accident. A Kozlov associate, Elizabeth Sylvester (defendant), drafted the complaint but failed to name one of the involved drivers as a defendant. After discovering a conflict of interest, Kozlov referred Garcia’s case to attorney Michael Gentlesk. Gentlesk amended the complaint to add the missing driver as a defendant, but the newly added defendant obtained summary judgment against Garcia based on the applicable statute of limitations. Gentlesk advised Garcia to settle her claims against the other defendant-drivers for $87,000, even though Gentlesk believed that Garcia’s claim was worth $200,000 to $250,000. Garcia settled her claims against the other defendants for $87,000 and pursued a legal-malpractice claim against Sylvester. At the trial against Sylvester, Garcia presented a “suit within a suit,” during which she presented evidence and expert testimony establishing that if the missing defendant had been named in the original complaint, Garcia would have recovered more than $87,000 for her injuries. The jury found that Sylvester’s negligence in failing to name the missing driver as a defendant was the cause of Garcia’s damages and that the value of Garcia’s case was $225,000. Sylvester appealed. The appellate division reversed, finding that a proper suit within a suit had not been presented and that the trial court should not have accepted expert testimony as a substitute for a suit within a suit. Garcia appealed.

Rule of Law

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Holding and Reasoning (Long, J.)

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