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MARIE COLLAS AND RONALD COLLAS v. MICHAEL GARNICK (03/10/93)

filed: March 10, 1993.

MARIE COLLAS AND RONALD COLLAS, H/W, APPELLANTS,
v.
MICHAEL GARNICK, ESQUIRE, APPELLEE



Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Philadelphia County, No. 2110 February, 1990. Before SHEPPARD, J.

COUNSEL

Armando A. Pandola, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellants.

Arthur W. Lefco, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Wieand, Olszewski and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 425 Pa. Super. Page 10]

If a lawyer negligently advises a client regarding the effect of a release and the client, in reliance on the lawyer's advice,

[ 425 Pa. Super. Page 11]

    signs a release which unintentionally has the effect of barring an action contemplated by the client, is the lawyer immune from liability because the release was executed as part of the settlement of a prior, separate action. The trial court held that the lawyer was immune from liability and sustained preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to a complaint filed by the client against the lawyer for legal malpractice. The client appealed. We reverse.

Marie Collas was injured in an automobile accident in 1986. At the time of the accident she was a passenger in the rear seat of a vehicle which collided with a vehicle owned by Park's Cleaners, Inc. She and her husband, Ronald, employed Michael Garnick, Esquire, to represent them in the pursuit of claims arising from the accident. Pursuant to this employment, Garnick caused a writ of summons to be issued against Park's Cleaners in October, 1987, and effected a settlement of the claims of Marie and Ronald Collas for two hundred forty-five thousand ($245,000.000) dollars.*fn1

In order to complete the settlement, Marie and Ronald Collas were requested to execute a general release which, by its terms, released and discharged the other driver and all other parties, known or unknown, who might be liable for the damages sustained. Before signing the release, according to the averments of the present complaint, Marie Collas asked her lawyer if the release would have any impact upon her plan to sue the manufacturer of the vehicle in which she had been riding or any other tortfeasor. Her lawyer, she alleges, assured her that a viable cause of action against the designer and manufacturer of the car's seat belt system would survive the release which she was being asked to sign in connection with the settlement of her claim against Park's Cleaners. In reliance on Garnick's advice, according to the complaint, she and her husband signed the release. Garnick's advice, she alleges, was incorrect and was based on a negligent failure to interpret correctly the language of the release.

[ 425 Pa. Super. Page 12]

In October, 1989, the Collases filed an action against the manufacturer of the seat belt restraining system of the vehicle in which Marie had been riding. The trial court held that the action was barred by the prior release and dismissed the action. The Superior Court affirmed, see Collas v. Key Hyundai, Inc., 415 Pa. Super. 652, 601 A.2d 367 (1991). The Supreme Court denied allocatur, see 530 Pa. 630, 606 A.2d 900 (1992).

The Collases then filed an action against Garnick for legal malpractice. Garnick, however, filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to the complaint. The trial court sustained these preliminary objections and dismissed the complaint. The court held that the action was barred by the decision of the Supreme Court in Muhammad v. Strassburger, McKenna, Messer, Shilobod and Gutnick, 526 Pa. 541, 587 A.2d 1346, reh. denied, 528 Pa. 345, 598 A.2d 27, cert. denied, U.S. , ...


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