Law360 (October 2, 2018, 9:49 PM EDT) — An Iowa federal jury held on Monday that a Nebraska law firm didn’t commit legal malpractice while representing a man in a suit over ownership of an insurance marketing company, awarding the firm $150,000 on its cross-claim for unpaid fees.
The late Douglas M. West’s son Douglas J. West and brother Mark West, as co-executors of his estate, had alleged that Domina Law Group PC’s shoddy representation during a dispute over the ownership of life and health insurance marketing company Western Marketing Associates Corp. left the senior West stuck with a reduced value when selling his stake in the company.
After deliberating for less than three hours following a five-day trial, the jury returned with a verdict fully in favor of Domina Law and its attorneys David Domina, Christian Williams and Brian Jorde, finding that they were not negligent in their representation of West, and that the firm is entitled to $152,037 in damages on its breach of contract claim over unpaid fees.
The estate was seeking over $5 million in damages, said Thomas I. Henderson of Whitfield & Eddy Law, who represented Domina Law.
The law firm’s lead trial counsel, Daniel Konicek of Konicek & Dillon PC, told Law360 on Tuesday that the jury had given a clear indication about how it felt about the case by sending out a note during deliberations asking if it could award Domina Law’s attorneys’ fees for defending the case. That wasn’t allowed, but it indicated that the jury felt the legal malpractice claim shouldn’t have been brought, Konicek said.
“I think it was pretty loud and clear by the jury that the Domina Law Group not only didn’t do anything wrong, but also concluded that they frankly did an excellent job,” he said.
An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The suit, filed by West’s estate in July 2016, alleged that Domina Law — a Nebraska-based firm that specializes in trial practice in a variety of areas including personal injuries, product liability and medical malpractice — had been retained by West in September 2013 to represent him in a pair of Iowa District Court suits between himself and his Western Medical co-owner, Mark Finken.
The co-owners had previously entered into a buy-sell agreement that provided a framework for each of them to transfer shares and retire from the corporation, but Domina Law advised West not to use it and to pursue a judicial dissolution of Western Medical instead, according to the complaint.
As a result of Domina Law’s advice, a court ultimately issued a judgment that resulted in West getting a much lower value for his share of the company than he would have received by using the buy-sell agreement, according to the suit.
In its answer and counter-claim filed in March 2016, Domina Law alleged that the estate still owed roughly $150,000 in legal fees and that the estate couldn’t sue for legal malpractice because West had accepted the benefits of Domina Law’s representation, accepting the judgment in the ownership dispute without appealing it and taking the payments he got from it.
West died in November 2015, according to case documents.
David Domina, the firm’s founding partner and defendant in the suit, was the Democratic nominee for one of Nebraska’s U.S. Senate seats in 2014, losing to Republican Ben Sasse.
West’s estate is represented by Matthew G. Sease and Scott M. Wadding of Kemp & Sease.
Domina Law is represented by Daniel Konicek of Konicek & Dillon PC and Thomas I. Henderson of Whitfield & Eddy Law.
The case is Estate of Douglas M. West v. Domina Law Group PC LLO, case number 1:16-cv-00030, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.
–Editing by Haylee Pearl.