ST. LOUIS — A Missouri appeals court has dismissed an appeal brought by a couple who sought money from an insurer that had covered their attorney, who was disbarred for defrauding clients.

On July 18, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District denied the appeal by plaintiffs Jessica and Brian Stacy because they had not appealed a final judgment in their case against the Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Co.

“The [trial court judge's] order did not enter judgment on any count raised in the Stacys’ petition," the appeals court said in its decision,” the appeals court said in its decision. 

The case arose from a head-on auto collision that took place in November 2007, and the Stacy’s subsequent hiring of former attorney Jeffrey Witt to represent them to seek medical expenses, lost wages and other damages from the other driver. Witt later assigned their case to his associate Bernard Becton, who unbeknownst to the Stacys, was a disbarred attorney, according to the ruling.

Without permission and without investigating the assets of the person being sued or looking at other possible insurance policies, the ruling says Becton settled the Stacys' claims for under-insured motorist benefits.

Without permission and without investigating the assets of the person being sued or looking at other possible insurance policies, the ruling says Becton settled the Stacys' claims for under-insured motorist benefits.

"According to the Stacys, Becton presented to them one check amounting to $25,000.00, stating 'this is all you can get,'" the appellate court said in its ruling. "...The Stacys, believing Becton, took and deposited the check."

The Bar Plan appointed an attorney to defend Witt in the malpractice case. The insurer, however, viewed the Stacys’s case as one collective claim, not two separate claims. The Bar Plan capped its liability at $500,000.  

The Stacys disagreed, each filing separate claims of $500,000. In insurance company rejected both claims. 

“On Sept. 13, 2013, about three weeks before trial, the parties engaged in an ultimately unsuccessful mediation, and on that date, [the] Bar Plan verbally acknowledged to the Stacys’ counsel and to [the] appointed counsel for the first time its “one-claim” view of the Stacys’ matters. which limited its liability to $500,000,” according to the appeals court decision. 

The Stacys then allegedly sent a new demand to the insurer as a single claim. The Bar Plan, however, rejected the new claim despite the alleged green light from Witt. The attorney then fired the appointed counsel and hired his own counsel because the insurer had allegedly failed to act in good faith to settle the Stacys' claims.

But Witt neither appeared nor presented a defense at trial. In the end, Jessica Stacy was awarded $400,000 in actual damages and $444,445 in punitive damages and Brian Stacy was awarded $50,000 in actual damages and $55,555 in punitive damages. 

The Stacys then filed suit against the insurer, alleging that it had restricted “its defense and indemnity obligations to the Policy limits applicable for a single claim. 

The Bar Plan argued that it was not bound by the judgment because Witt had fired the attorney it had appointed and accused Witt and the Stacys of colluding.

In 2016, a trial court ruled against the Stacys, holding that “[the] Bar Plan was never obligated to communicate its one-claim view to Witt.”

“As such, the trial court concluded that Bar Plan’s lack of communication to Witt on the matter could not mandate a ‘two-claim’ coverage view of the Stacys’ malpractice actions because to do so would create coverage where none existed,” according to the appellate court. “The trial court, therefore, denied the Stacys’ motion.” 

The Stacys the appealed the denial of their motion. But the appeals court ruled that the motion was not a final judgment.

“Since the Stacys appeal from the trial court’s denial of their motion, which sought summary judgment in their favor, they do not appeal from a final judgment, and this court, therefore, lacks the authority to resolve this appeal,” the appeals court said.

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Organizations in this Story

Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District
815 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63101

Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Co.
1717 Hidden Creek Ct
St. Louis, MO 63131-1826

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