Akron Team Secures Win in $40 Million Legal Malpractice Action After “Walk Away” Dismissal

Akron, Ohio (November 4, 2021) - Akron Partner John Hill and Associate Meleah M. Skillern, with assistance from Paralegal Kim Dornack, recently secured the dismissal of a $40 million legal malpractice action against Lewis Brisbois’ client when the plaintiff dismissed his case while discovery was ongoing, recovering nothing.

The Akron team represented a large national law firm that had defended a complicated and contentious underlying case arising from an ownership dispute between a physician cancer researcher and a venture capitalist who had formed a bio-tech start-up company based on the physician’s research. The venture capitalist had documents indicating he owned 100% of the company, with the doctor serving as a consultant who would receive royalties if their experimental drug was commercialized. After the company made a $400 million deal with a pharmaceutical company to develop the drug, the doctor unexpectedly claimed that he owned the start-up company pursuant to a verbal agreement he allegedly made with the venture capitalist. The doctor filed suit, naming the venture capitalist and the start-up company. Lewis Brisbois’ client defended both defendants. After hearing of the lawsuit, the pharmaceutical company forced a modification of its agreement with the start-up, reducing payments by over $35 million.

The case between the doctor and the two defendants ultimately settled, with the doctor obtaining majority ownership of the company as part of a complex settlement. The doctor subsequently caused the company to sue Lewis Brisbois’ client for legal malpractice on the theory that a conflict of interest existed and that the law firm hurt the company by litigating the ownership dispute in favor of the individual defendant. The doctor and the company sought to recover $35 million from Lewis Brisbois’ client for the lost payments from the pharmaceutical company, as well as several million in other damages.

Shortly after critical depositions (including the doctor’s) in the malpractice action, the plaintiff requested a settlement. Ultimately, the doctor agreed to dismiss the case pursuant to a “walk away” wherein the plaintiff recovered nothing. Significantly, the public dismissal order of this matter states that “no monetary payment was made” by Lewis Brisbois’ client.

Mr. Hill is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ Complex Business & Commercial Litigation Practice. He is known for his uncommon level of jury trial experience and has tried dozens of complex cases to jury verdicts. Mr. Hill frequently represents hospitals, physicians, lawyers, and other professionals in litigation in state and federal courts.

Ms. Skillern is also a member of the Complex Business & Commercial Litigation Practice. She handles a wide range of business disputes, including claims for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, business interference, and breach of contract, amongst others. Ms. Skillern frequently speaks to students and young professionals about the practice of law, business, and professionalism.

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