Piluso v. Cohen, 2000 P.A. Super. 335, (2000).
PA underlying medical malpractice action.
Student Contributor: Colleen Gaedcke
Facts: Appellant sued two doctors and the hospital for medical malpractice. Attorney for the appellant, the appellee, entered into a settlement agreement for $100,000 with doctor A and the hospital. Appellant was not present for the settlement negotiations. Appellant argues on appeal that the appellee settled the case without her consent or knowledge. Appellant stated that she did first learned of the settlement at trial when asked the appellee why the other defendants were not present at the trial. However, the appellant did not repudiate the settlement, but rather proceeded to trial against doctor B. The jury entered a 1.5 million dollar verdict in favor of the appellant, holding the hospital and doctor A liable. After the verdict was entered, the appellant tried to repudiate her attorney’s authority to enter into the settlement for the first time. Appellant brought a malpractice claim against the appellee. The lower court grated summary judgment in favor of the attorney and the woman appealed.
Issue: Whether a client can repudiate a settlement that was entered into by his or her attorney without his or her expressed authority?
Ruling: In affirming the lower courts grant of summary judgment in favor of the appellees, the Superior Court held:
1) “A client ratifies his attorney’s act if he does not repudiate it promptly upon receiving knowledge that the attorney has exceeded his authority.”
2) As a matter policy, settlements are favored by the law and must be sustained in the absence of fraud and mistake.
“We foreclose the ability of dissatisfied litigants to agree to a settlement and then file suit against their attorneys in the hope that they will recover additional monies…[because] to permit otherwise…places an unnecessarily arduous burden on an overly taxed court system.”
Lesson: If an attorney makes a decision to settle their client’s case without their clients authority or knowledge and the client does not attempt to immediately repudiate the authority of his counsel to enter into a settlement, but rather accepts the benefits flowing from the settlement, the client has ratified the act of the attorney and will be prevented to bring a malpractice claim against his or her attorney.