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Schwab v. Zahradnik

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

SHERYL SCHWAB, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JENNIFER ZAHRADNIK, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Lars G. Anderson, Judge.

         A claimant appeals the district court rulings dismissing her claims of legal malpractice.

          Peter C. Riley of Tom Riley Law Firm, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Gregory M. Lederer and Shannon M. Powers of Lederer Weston Craig PLC, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Sheryl Schwab appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in her legal malpractice action against her dissolution attorney, Jennifer Zahradnik. Schwab claims Zahradnik provided negligent legal representation by failing to preserve her rights to her ex-spouse's potential medical-malpractice claim, her right to file a loss-of-consortium claim, and a right to reimbursement for insurance premiums paid during the dissolution. We find Schwab had no right to her ex-spouse's post-dissolution personal-injury settlement. We also find any claims she might have had accrued at the time of the dissolution decree and have expired under the statute of limitations. We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Zahradnik.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         In September 2008, Schwab filed a petition to dissolve her marriage with Dennis Musel. Zahradnik represented Schwab in the proceedings. Prior to completion of the dissolution proceedings, Musel sustained injuries during surgery which led to Musel's partial paralysis. On June 16, 2009, Musel's attorney sent a letter to Zahradnik indicating Musel was contemplating a medical malpractice action and would reimburse Schwab for insurance premiums paid during the dissolution but would not agree to Schwab receiving any of the settlement proceeds.

         Schwab and Musel submitted a stipulated dissolution decree, which was approved by the court on July 8, 2009. Schwab knew of Musel's potential medical-malpractice claim at the time the decree was entered, though Musel had told her he was not intending to bring a claim. The dissolution decree did not preserve any claim Schwab might assert to Musel's potential malpractice action, preserve her own potential loss-of-consortium claim, or preserve a right to reimbursement for the insurance premiums.

         Musel filed his medical-malpractice claim in March 2012 and settled in November 2013. Schwab learned of the settlement through an article in the newspaper and then requested her dissolution file from Zahradnik.

         On January 5, 2017, Schwab filed a legal malpractice petition against Zahradnik. Schwab made three negligent representation claims against Zahradnik: failure to preserve Schwab's right to make a claim against Musel's medical-malpractice action and failure to preserve a loss-of-consortium claim; failure to preserve Schwab's right to reimbursement of insurance premiums; and failure to inform Schwab of Musel's intent to file a claim and her related rights. Schwab also brought a breach-of-contract claim against Zahradnik, alleging Zahradnik had failed to inform Schwab of Musel's potential medical-malpractice claim and failed to preserve her rights in the dissolution decree. Zahradnik's answer included two affirmative defenses: Schwab's legal-malpractice claim was time-barred by the statute of limitations and Schwab was a proximate cause of her own damages.

         In February 2018, Zahradnik filed a motion for summary judgment based on the statute-of-limitations defense; Schwab resisted. The district court denied summary judgment on March 30. On April 20, the court amended its ruling and granted Zahradnik summary judgment as to any allegations concerning loss of consortium, finding Schwab held such rights independent of Musel's medical-malpractice claim and any loss of consortium occurred during Schwab and Musel's marriage. Because her loss-of-consortium claim accrued during the marriage and was lost with the decree in 2009, it was time barred by the statute of limitations. The remaining negligence and contract claims on Zahradnik's failure to preserve Schwab's right to make a claim against Musel's medical-malpractice recovery and her right to reimbursement of insurance premiums remained set for trial.

         On April 23, in a pretrial colloquy, Schwab indicated she was not pursuing the legal malpractice as a breach-of-contract claim.[1] The court revisited the summary judgment motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Zahradnik on the negligence claim. Schwab filed an Iowa Rule of Civil ...


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