Western Psych victim's parents sue lawyers

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An expert report attached to a lawsuit filed Monday accuses attorneys in a Downtown law firm of attempting to "browbeat" the parents of a man killed last year during a mass shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic into reaching a quick settlement with UPMC.

Harry and Mary Schaab accuse the law firm of Farrell & Reisinger as well as three attorneys within the firm of breach of contract stemming from a $1.5 million settlement agreement they reached with UPMC in the months after the shooting.

It later fell through because the agreement would have precluded the couple from suing anyone else in the matter -- including the estate of John Shick, the man responsible for killing their son, Michael, in a mass shooting at the Oakland hospital on March 8, 2012. Michael Schaab, 25, was a milieu therapist at Western Psych.

In a report on the matter requested by Michael O'Day, the Schaabs' new attorney, Barbara Rosenberg, wrote that Farrell & Reisinger engaged "in a campaign to coerce and browbeat the Schaabs into signing a global settlement agreement that was not in their interests and which they had always rejected."

Ms. Rosenberg, an attorney and former investigator for the Disciplinary Board for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said the attorneys "jettisoned the interests of the client in their own favor."

But William Pietragallo II, the lawyer representing Tom Farrell, Jay K. Reisinger and Tina O. Miller in the matter, called it "a case without merit."

"The expert's report is based on a set of facts that are inconsistent with reality," he said.

According to a previous court filing on behalf of Farrell & Reisinger, the attorneys believed the Schaabs had no intention to pursue a claim against anyone other than UPMC, and "as such, it was not necessary to discuss in detail the terms of the release that was prepared by UPMC," Mr. Pietragallo wrote.

But that is counter to the lawsuit filed Monday by the Schaabs, of Greensburg. According to the complaint, they first entered into a contract with the Farrell & Reisinger firm in March 2012. They attended mediation on July 20, 2012, and quickly agreed to a settlement of $1.5 million.

During the negotiation, the Schaabs expressed concerns that there would not be enough money to pay off the student loans of their son's fiance, and Farrell & Reisinger agreed to drop their legal fees to a flat $350,000 -- down from about $500,000.

But the Schaabs never signed the agreement, according to the new lawsuit, because they feared that the release attached to it would have kept them from suing Shick's estate -- which Ms. Rosenberg said is true, despite assurances made by the attorneys.

"Farrell and Reisinger also demonstrated a lack of competence and a reckless disregard of their clients' interests either by failing to review the typed release which was sent by defendants or by failing to understand or ignoring the fact that the release was a global release rather than [an individual] release," wrote Ms. Rosenberg.

After several months of back and forth between the firm and the Schaabs, the couple terminated its contract with Farrell & Reisinger and asked Mr. O'Day to represent them.

He signed on to the case, ultimately coming to the same monetary figure to settle with UPMC -- $1.5 million -- but with no provision limiting the Schaabs from suing the Shick estate.

Farrell & Reisinger said they attempted to negotiate the fee with Mr. O'Day, but when they were unsuccessful filed a motion in orphans' court to enforce the settlement and collect their fee, which they say is now $514,061.

Last week, Orphan's Court Judge Lawrence O'Toole signed an order requiring that fee to be held in escrow until a final determination is made in the case. A hearing is scheduled on the issue in February.

"Yes, there was a contract. And Farrell & Reisinger did a spectacular job getting a settlement from UPMC when UPMC was protected by the worker's compensation laws," Mr. Pietragallo said.

But Ms. Rosenberg disagrees with that assessment.

Instead, she accused Farrell & Reisinger of misrepresenting to the Schaabs their qualifications in this type of case. She also said the attorneys "rushed to arbitration less than four months after the death of their son, with minimal preparation," that they violated the rules of professional conduct and that the lawyers "cherry pick[ed] the most obvious and remunerative claim" before then dropping their representation.


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