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Client sues Annapolis lawyer, alleging negligence

Lawsuit alleges attorney failed to disclose expert witness

An Annapolis trial attorney faces a $300,000 negligence lawsuit brought by a former client who alleges the attorney’s failure to disclose an expert witness doomed the client’s personal injury case against the state of Maryland.

The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Monday, further claims that Paul S. Blumenthal violated the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct by not explaining to his client, David Harding, the significance of his failure to disclose the witness.

According to the lawsuit, Harding had retained Blumenthal to represent him after he was injured in a 2006 motorcycle accident on Route 7 that he said was caused by a sinkhole formed after a section of the highway he was driving on collapsed.

Harding and two acquaintances, Dale Clester and Dennis Booth, were riding in a staggered formation on Maryland Route 7, according to the lawsuit. Clester’s motorcycle hit the sinkhole first and caused a “chain reaction” that left all three men with serious injuries. Harding was taken by ambulance to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Clester and Booth retained a different attorney, John E. Kelly, to represent them. All three men sued the state in Baltimore City Circuit Court, alleging the state’s negligence caused the sinkhole, which in turn caused their injuries.

Blumenthal and Kelly engaged a standard of care expert, Russell J. Kolmus, to support their case, but according to the lawsuit, Blumenthal failed to disclose Kolmus as an expert witness before the deadline passed.

The state moved to exclude Kolmus, and in July 2009, the trial court ruled the plaintiffs could not call him as an expert witness.

In October 2009, Harding filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and the circuit court soon after issued a stay on all his pending claims, including his claim against the state.

After a five-day trial addressing liability in December 2009, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Clester and Booth. However, the circuit court granted the state’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to present expert testimony on the standard of care of the state.

The court later granted the state’s motion for summary judgment on Harding’s claim because he, too, lacked the required standard of care testimony.

In February 2013, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s ruling that the plaintiffs’ claims failed in the absence of expert testimony. Blumenthal, however, did not explain the reason for the appellate court’s decision to his client, the lawsuit alleges.

“Defendant Blumenthal’s only explanation of the appellate ruling to Plaintiff Harding was that Mr. Kelly had not submitted a name,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant Blumenthal told Plaintiff Harding that the case was over and there was nothing more he could do for Plaintiff Harding.”

Blumenthal also did not inform Harding that Harding had a potential claim against him due to his negligence, the complaint states. Harding only sought out legal advice after he happened to run into Booth, who informed him that he and Clester had settled a claim against Kelly.

Blumenthal did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the suit on Wednesday.

Towson attorney G. Macy Nelson, who is representing Harding, declined to comment further on the suit.

The case is David Harding v. Paul S. Blumenthal, Esq. and Law Offices of Paul S. Blumenthal P.A., 24-c-15-002217.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.