Traci McGill

In what is described as the largest award ever in a Sacramento legal malpractice suit, a jury awarded an 11-year-old quadriplegic and her parents $2.35 million Tuesday after deciding the family’s lawyer
violated an attorney-client relationship.

The jury of 11 men and one woman unanimously found that attorney Rodney A. Klein breached his duties as the family’s lawyer during a medical malpractice suit that ended in an out-of-court settlement in 1978.

The jury unanimously awarded Traci McGill and her parents, Michael and Carolyn McGill, about $1 million in general damages, $469,392 in interest and $870,000 in exemplary damages.

The McGills’ current attorney, Edward P. Freidberg, who specializes in legal malpractice cases, said it is the largest such award ever granted in Sacramento County.

This was an extremely clear case of liability, he said. It should have never been tried because there was no defense to it.

Klein said he plans to appeal the jury’s verdict. I’m not ashamed of what I did. I’m proud of what I did for the McGills, he said. Little Traci McGill is a child that I love and I did the best I could for her.

Michael and Carolyn McGill hired Klein in December 1974 to represent them in a medical malpractice suit against KaiserPermanente Medical Center. The McGills contended the hospital was negligent in the delivery of Traci, who was born a quadriplegic.

The medical malpractice case went to trial in January 1977 and Traci was awarded $1.75 million and her parents received about $6,000.

Kaiser attorneys, who argued that the baby’s plight was caused by other factors, appealed the verdict to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, contending the jury was not properly instructed by the trial court judge and that Klein erred when he failed to ask for the special jury instruction.

The case was settled before it went to the appeal court after George Paras, who was then an appellate court justice, told Klein and the McGills that the verdict would likely be reversed by the higher court.

In January 1978, both sides agreed to an $880,000 out-of-court settlement in which $150,000 went to the parents, $400,000 went to the child and $330,000 went to Klein.

Freidberg charged that Klein urged the McGills to settle out of court so that neither they nor others would discover that it may have been his error that left the case open to reversal. Freidberg contended Klein should have declared a conflict of interest when the question of error arose and told the McGills to retain a second attorney.

What they didn’t know is that if it had been reversed, they could have collected (any loss) against Klein’s insurance company, Freidberg said. Therefore, the McGills unwittingly gave up a $1.75 million award for an $880,000 settlement, he said.

In addition, Freidberg contended Klein overcharged the McGills by $21,000 and that the jury’s award represents a repayment of the overbilling.

It is an incredible verdict, Klein said. There is no such wrong. If lawyers are going to be held to that standard of care where they must consult a second lawyer every time they settle a case, our system of justice is in great need of change.

Klein said that the McGills came to him in late 1977 and asked him to accept the out-of-court settlement. I settled the case because the child needed the money, the support, medications and help.

He said because Traci was a minor, the settlement had to be approved by several judges. And they did that, he said. I could not have settled this without their approval. Edition:  FINAL
Section:  METRO
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