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Plaintiff Awarded $935,000 In Long-Running Attorney Breach Of Contract Lawsuit

Connecticut legal malpractice case from 1990's alleging attorney breach of contract decided in favor of plaintiff's estate.

One of the oldest civil cases in the state of Connecticut is getting closer to the finish line.

A legal malpractice case against Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder has outlasted the original plaintiff and his wife, and has grown so complex it has been referred to as a trial within a trial within a trial.

The estate of Sylvia Kuehl was awarded $935,000 in what initially started as a workers' compensation issue in the early 1990s after Kuehl's husband, Guenther, was injured driving to an appointment for work. The case has several twists and turns, but ultimately attorney Rosalind Koskoff, who represented the Kuehls, was sued for negligence and

breach of contract after Sylvia Kuehl claimed the attorney failed to advise her to file for workers' compensation survivor benefits within the appropriate time frame.

Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder was represented by Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey of Shelton.

"Long before most of the issues in this case had developed, Mr. Kuehl had died," according to a 42-page decision issued by Superior Court Judge Kenneth Povodator on June 18. "The real workers' compensation issue became not so much that claim that he might have been able to pursue, but rather the survivor benefits which Mrs. Kuehl might have received, had workers' compensation issues been pursued properly/diligently."

Sylvia Kuehl died in September 2013 and her partner, Clifford Mollo, was named executor of the estate.

Both parties have appealed the decision to the Appellate Court. Attorney Ridgely Brown of Stamford, who has been representing the Kuehl estate, said his appeal will object to the trial judge dismissing the second count of the lawsuit, which alleged that the Koskoff firm intentionally hid the fact that it knew about the filing deadline for survivor benefits. The plaintiffs also will request that interest dating to 1999 be added to the $975,000 in damages.

In June 1991, Guenther Kuehl was employed by Z-Loda Systems when he got into a car accident while on his way to an appointment. He filed a claim for the workers' comp benefits that December. Z-Loda, which manufactures vertical lift conveyor belts, and its insurance carrier, Travelers, contested the claim. Travelers claimed his injuries were not work-related and even if they were, they were not related to the accident.

In October 1991, the Kuehls hired Koskoff and, in November 1992, they sued the driver of the other car. Two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, Guenther died of an aortic aneurysm. Sylvia took over as the plaintiff and amended the complaint to claim that the aortic aneurysm was caused by the injuries her husband sustained in the accident.

In 1996, the lawsuit against the driver was dropped after a settlement was reached. Sylvia Kuehl claims the settlement amount was for less than what she would have received in workers' comp survivor benefits. But according to the complaint against the law firm, Koskoff told Kuehl that she could still recover survivor benefits. Kuehl claims the law firm knew that was impossible because the filing deadline had passed.

Brown, the plaintiffs lawyer, said Koskoff and the law firm later denied ever promising to pursue survivor benefits."[Koskoff] said she knew nothing about worker's comp and could not have handled the workers' comp and didn't agree to handle worker's comp," Brown said. According to Brown, Koskoff "never really admitted to missing the statute of limitations. She just claimed she had no responsibility for workers' comp."

It wasn't until August 1998 that Kuehl discovered that the widow's benefits deadline had passed. So, in 1999 she hired more lawyers to sue her former lawyer at Koskoff and to take another crack at the survivor benefits. In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld Travelers rejection of her claim, affirming that she had to have filed for benefits within one year of her husband's death.
In her legal malpractice claim against the Koskoff firm, Kuehl claimed that it failed to advise her about the one-year deadline. According to the complaint, Rosalind Koskoff told Travelers in March 1993 that Kuehl was waiving her claim to the survivor benefits, but failed to inform Kuehl. According to the lawsuit, the breach of contract claim "is not simply that defendants failed to exercise reasonable care in enumerated aspects of their representation of plaintiff and her late husband—it was that they failed to do anything relating to workers' compensation."

In 2005, the General Assembly approved legislation that would have allowed Kuehl to claim her survivor's benefits, and subsequently released Koskoff from the legal malpractice case. The language of the bill was incredibly restrictive and could have only applied to the Kuehl case. For that reason, Travelers claimed the legislation was unconstitutional, and the state Supreme Court agreed.

Finally, the case against Koskoff went to trial in April 2014 before Judge Povodator. By that time, Sylvia Kuehl had died. The defense argued that there was a number of deficiencies with the case "starting with the most basic level—was the [widow's benefits] claim of Mr. Kuehl viable and likely to succeed, if it had been properly pursued?" according to court documents.

In other words, the defense argued that it was unlikely that Kuehl would have qualified for the workers' comp survivor benefits because there was insufficient evidence showing that her husband's injuries from the car crash led to the aneurysm that killed him. But the plaintiffs presented medical experts during the two-week trial who testified that there was a link.

The court sided with Kuehl's estate. "The medical evidence, if considered as presenting a chain of interrelated elements, established a causative connection between the accident and the condition that eventually led to Mr. Kuehl's death," the judge wrote.

Originally posted by Megan Spicer on

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