The Plain Dealer reports a $6 million dollar verdict in a legal malpractice case. Here’s the full article:
Ex-client wins $6 million judgment
Lawyer committed malpractice, jury says
James F. McCarty
Plain Dealer Reporter
“Angela Caruso thought she was buying sole ownership of the family’s coffee business, Berardi’s Fresh Roast, when she paid $930,000 to her ex-husband, Michael, in 2000.
But she admitted she didn’t read the fine print of the loan papers her lawyer, David Leneghan, had crafted. She later learned that she had agreed to transfer ownership of the company to Leneghan’s father, Patrick, a Cleveland businessman, if she defaulted.
Which is eventually what happened. A Cuyahoga County jury on Friday found that David Leneghan committed legal malpractice for failing to adequately represent her. Jurors awarded Caruso $6.4 million in compensatory damages.
The jury will return to Common Pleas Court on Tuesday to determine if Leneghan and his former law firm, Wegman Hessler Vanderburg & O’Toole, should be forced to pay punitive damages to Caruso.
Caruso, 58, returned to her condominium in Broadview Heights to celebrate her victory. She couldn’t think of a better gift to give her Italian immigrant parents on their 65th wedding anniversary.
“My [family] name is ultimately my most precious possession,” Caruso said. “I don’t want the name Berardi associated in any shape or form with” the Leneghans.
She said she would like to regain ownership of her company. Her lawyer said that decision will be up to the trial judge.
For five weeks of trial, the jury heard how the Carusos built the Berardi coffee company from nothing into a $4 million enterprise with 23 employees and the bulk of the Northeast Ohio market. But as the Carusos’ marriage crumbled, so did their business relationship. Both wanted sole control of the company and sought to buy the other’s share.
David Leneghan put together a loan agreement that the divorce judge approved. But afterward, Angela Caruso learned her financing had mysteriously fallen through, and the only way she could buy the company was with a loan from Patrick Leneghan. In the meantime, Patrick Leneghan would hold the company as collateral. Caruso says he gradually muscled her out of the business, cut her salary in half and, after two years, fired her.