Procanik by Procanik v. Cillo

Decision Date20 August 1985
Citation502 A.2d 94,206 N.J.Super. 270
PartiesPeter PROCANIK, an infant, by his Guardian ad Litem, Rosemarie PROCANIK and Rosemarie Procanik and Michael Procanik, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Joseph Peter CILLO, Herbert Langer, Ernest P. Greenberg, Harold A. Sherman, Lee S. Goldsmith, and Greenstone, Greenstone & Naishuler, a Professional Corporation, Defendants.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court

Myron W. Kronisch, Livingston, for plaintiffs (Kronisch, Schkeeper & Miltz, Livingston, attorneys).

Russell L. Hewit, Cranford, for defendants Joseph Peter Cillo, Herbert Langer and Ernest P. Greenberg (Dughi & Hewit, Cranford, attorneys).

William J. Prout, Newark, for defendant Harold A. Sherman (Tompkins, McGuire & Wachenfeld, Newark, attorneys).

Marc S. Friedman, Roseland, for defendant Lee S. Goldsmith (Kalb, Friedman & Siegelbaum, Roseland, attorneys).

George Catlett, Edison, for defendant Greenstone, Greenstone & Naishuler (Catlett & Knapp, Edison, attorneys).

BOYLE, J.S.C.

This case involves the pre-termination duties of an attorney who is a specialist in his field arising out of a legal malpractice claim within a medical malpractice suit. The primary issue is whether an attorney, a specialist in malpractice, has the duty, not only to advise his clients on the settled law, but whether he also has a duty to disclose to his clients, clearly and unmistakeably, an opinion held by him that the settled law is ripe for reconsideration. The subject matter, therefore, concerns what constitutes a complete, informed judgment. Additionally, there are contentions of a post-termination duty to advise clients of a decision subsequently reported in the advance sheets and whether these duties are mooted by a prospective application thereafter as to the applicable two-year statute of limitations. The issues arise out of a remand of the Supreme Court, Procanik By Procanik v. Cillo, 97 N.J. 339, 478 A.2d 755 (1984) (hereinafter cited as Procanik). Cross-motions for summary judgment have been made by all parties who agree that there are no genuine issues as to any material fact under R. 4:46-2. Therefore, a motion for summary judgment is appropriate for consideration. Judson v. Peoples Bank and Trust Company of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 110 A.2d 24 (1954).

This case has a lengthy history which requires recitation.

FACTUAL HISTORY

On June 8, 1976, co-plaintiff, Rosemarie Procanik (Procanik), placed herself under the medical care of the co-defendants, Dr. Joseph P. Cillo, Dr. Herbert Langer and Dr. Ernest P. Greenberg, who are board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists who apparently conduct a group practice. Thereafter, Procanik visited the offices of defendant-physicians from time to time. On June 9, 1977, she reported to defendant, Dr. Cillo, that her last menstrual period had been May 4, 1977. She further advised him that she had recently been diagnosed by family-physician as having measles but did not know if it was rubella (German measles). He examined Procanik and ordered "tests for German measles, known as Rubella Titer Test", at Rahway Hospital. The results "were 'indicative of past infection of Rubella.' " Instead of ordering further tests, it is alleged that Dr. Cillo negligently interpreted the results and told Procanik that she "had nothing to worry about because she had become immune to German measles as a child." In fact, the "past infection" disclosed by the tests was the German measles that had prompted Procanik to consult the defendant-physicians. Ignorant of what an accurate diagnosis would have disclosed, Procanik allowed her pregnancy to continue and delivered a son, the infant and incompetent, Peter Procanik; he having been born December 26, 1977. On January 16, 1978, the child was diagnosed as suffering from congenital rubella Down's syndrome.

As a result of the doctors' alleged negligence, Procanik was deprived of the choice of terminating the pregnancy, and Peter was "born with multiple birth defects," including eye lesions, heart disease, and auditory defects.

On April 26, 1978, the co-plaintiffs, Rosemarie Procanik and Michael Procanik, her husband, consulted with defendant-attorney, Harold Sherman (Sherman), regarding a possible claim for personal injuries as a result of the alleged medical malpractice of defendant-physicians. As a result of the consultation, Sherman determined that an opinion was necessary from a specialist in medical malpractice. Plaintiffs concede Sherman is a general practitioner in law. On November 6, 1978, Sherman consulted with Lee S. Goldsmith (Goldsmith), who was "of counsel" to the firm of Greenstone, Greenstone & Naishuler (Greenstone), a professional corporation specializing in medical malpractice claims. Goldsmith and Greenstone are also defendant-attorneys in this action. Goldsmith, in addition to being an attorney, is a medical doctor. Answers to interrogatories disclosed that he had handled 300 cases involving medical malpractice. He specializes in medical malpractice cases. It was also conceded that Goldsmith, being "of counsel" (although not an employee of the Greenstone firm) acted as its agent.

Sherman collected plaintiffs' records and any other information regarding this matter and passed them along to defendants, Greenstone and Goldsmith. It was understood that Goldsmith would review the matter and render an opinion to Sherman.

Subsequently, Goldsmith referred the file to Dr. Leslie Iffy, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director, division of maternal-fetal medicine at the New Jersey University of Medicine and Dentistry, for an expert medical opinion. Discovery revealed various correspondence between Goldsmith, Greenstone and Sherman. Of significance is a letter dated January 29, 1979 from Goldsmith to Greenstone. 1 It is clear from that letter that Goldsmith was aware of Gleitman v. Cosgrove, 49 N.J. 22, 227 A.2d 689 (1967), which precluded wrongful birth actions. Goldsmith indicated that in his opinion the Procanik case was an appropriate one to reverse Gleitman. The letter stated "I think the time is right, and I think we have a good shot at reversal." On February 7, 1979, Goldsmith and Greenstone received Dr. Iffy's medical report. In March 1979, Goldsmith delivered the entire file to Greenstone for his review. In a letter to Sherman dated April 26, 1979, Goldsmith and Greenstone decided not to accept the case. 2 They concluded that: (1) Gleitman "prohibits the kind of action that would have to be brought herein"; (2) "It is possible that Gleitman could be reversed"; (3) "that it would have to be taken to the Supreme Court in order to obtain a reversal"; and (4) "The law is dead against us in the State and the reversal would be necessary."

As a result of this letter, Sherman determined to terminate the attorney-client relationship with Procanik. A meeting took place at his office with the Procaniks present. He discussed with them Goldsmith's letter of April 26, 1979, and reviewed a letter with them dated May 2, 1979 3 which constituted a termination of his services for the Procaniks. The letter indicated that Goldsmith was not interested in handling the case, and "his judgment is one on which I would certainly rely." It also advised the Procaniks "that you are free to consult another attorney, who after all, might feel differently about the case." It also advised the Procaniks of the applicable statute of limitations both as to the parents' claims and that of the infant, Peter. It also suggested "that if you want to pursue this matter further, you contact another attorney immediately." After Sherman had been originally retained and before termination of that relationship, the Supreme Court granted certification on September 5, 1978 in Berman v. Allan, 80 N.J. 421, 404 A.2d 8 (1979), which was reported in the New Jersey Law Journal (Law Journal), 102 N.J.L.J. 576 (1978). Although all of the defendant-attorneys were readers of the Law Journal, none of them had read this certification in that publication. On February 26, 1979, Berman was argued before the Supreme Court. On July 5, 1979, shortly after the attorney-client relationship had been terminated and memorialized by letter of May 2, 1979, the Law Journal published the notification of the decision of Berman v. Allan, 104 N.J.L.J. 1 (1979), which was decided on June 26, 1979. On July 26, 1979, the full text of the opinion in Berman appeared in the Law Journal, 104 N.J.L.J. 73 (1979). The Berman decision was then published in the advance sheets on August 31, 1979. In Berman v. Allan, 80 N.J. 421, 404 A.2d 8 (1979), the Court recognized that parents may recover for emotional distress for the "wrongful birth" of a child born with birth defects. The defendant-attorneys had not read the certification in Berman, reported in the Law Journal prior to termination with the Procaniks, nor, as revealed by answers to interrogatories, could they recall with specificity when, after termination, they had become aware of the reported decision. Consequently, defendant-attorneys never advised the Procaniks that they had a cause of action, and the two-year statute of limitations expired on their claims on January 16, 1980. However, after January 16, 1980, the Procaniks engaged new counsel and a complaint was filed on April 8, 1981, almost 15 months after the statute of limitations had expired and nearly 3 1/2 years after the infant was diagnosed as suffering from congenital rubella Down's syndrome.

Specifically, plaintiffs' complaint alleges that defendant-physicians negligently failed to diagnose a rubella infection early in plaintiff-mother's pregnancy, as a result of which infant-plaintiff was born with multiple birth defects. This medical malpractice caused them to suffer emotional injury and to incur medical expenses. Plaintiffs also assert that their defendant-attorneys undertook to investigate plaintiffs' potential malpractice claims and,...

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  • Delbridge v. Office of Public Defender
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court
    • January 23, 1989
    ...exercise that degree of reasonable knowledge and skill that lawyers of ordinary ability and skill possess." Procanik v. Cillo, 206 N.J.Super. 270, 282-283, 502 A.2d 94 (Law Div.1985), citing St. Pius X House of Retreats v. Camden Dioc., 88 N.J. 571, 588, 443 A.2d 1052 (1982). What is requir......
  • Pitre v. Opelousas General Hosp.
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    ...Davis, Inc., 98 Wash.2d 460, 656 P.2d 483 (1983); Procanik by Procanik v. Cillo, 97 N.J. 339, 478 A.2d 755 (1984), on remand, 206 N.J.Super. 270, 502 A.2d 94 (1985).2 Wintersteen v. National Cooperage & Woodenware Co., 361 Ill. 95, 197 N.E. 578 (1935). See generally Skinner v. Anderson, 38 ......
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    ...whether a ruling made during one trial stage of the action is binding throughout the remainder of the trial. Procanik v. Cillo, 206 N.J.Super. 270, 293, 502 A.2d 94 (Law Div.1985). Compare R. 4:42-2, which states in In the absence of [a direction that an issue is separate and is certified a......
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