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A Las Vegas jury has found that two attorneys committed malpractice in their representation of a brain-damaged man in a personal injury suit. It awarded the man, Jason Nault, $3.3 million. The lawyers had reached a $17 million settlement that gave Nault only $2.5 million — compared with $6.6 million to his wife, from whom he’s now divorced, and $6.8 million to the lawyers. Other amounts went to the couple’s daughter and to pay expenses. Nault was 21 years old when he suffered massive brain damage and became a quadriplegic after going without oxygen for more than seven minutes during surgery for a hernia. In 1996, attorneys W. Randall Mainor and Richard Harris of Las Vegas’ Mainor Harris settled a suit against doctors and the hospital. The largest amounts went to Mainor, Harris and Louise Nault, to whom he’d been married for 29 days. When Nault’s parents, Linda and Philip, began caring for him in 1997, they were surprised at the small amount of money that he was receiving. They hired Gary Logan, a personal injury lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice, to look into the settlement. Logan, a Las Vegas solo who had never tried a legal malpractice case before, sued the attorneys claiming negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy. He alleged that representing both Nault and his wife was a conflict of interest. Mainor insists that the ruling throws a wrench in attorneys’ personal injury work. “Many, many lawyers have asked me to appeal it because they don’t believe the result was proper because the standard of care is that we represent families,” Mainor said. The ruling, he said, will mean that no one can ever represent a family in a case. “If five kids were in an accident, are we going to have five lawyers? It creates more expense, more havoc and more problems.” THE ALLEGATIONS Logan said of Mainor and Harris, “This kind of conduct is the reason people hate lawyers.” Logan brought in experts, including defense and plaintiffs’ lawyers, who testified that Jason Nault should have received 80 percent of the settlement. Among the breaches in professional conduct that Logan alleged — some of which were raised at trial and some that were barred — were that another attorney, Joe Rolston, received a $2.2 million referral fee without ever receiving consent of his brain-damaged client, Nault. Logan also alleged that Mainor and Harris bypassed a guardianship court with the settlement agreement to avoid scrutiny and then never fully reported the settlement to the district court. Also, Logan entered as evidence a document signed by Louise Nault agreeing to pay the lawyers the full 40 percent of the settlement, even if the court should reduce their fee. Logan said his witnesses testified that this conduct is prejudicial to the administration of justice: “You’re telling a client to ignore a court order.” Mainor said that Logan distorted the facts and the two lawyers remain on amicable terms with Nault’s parents. “The jury found there was no intentional conduct. No intent to harm this plaintiff, Jason Nault.” He said that the fee paid to Rolston was an association fee, not a contingency fee. Mainor said that the district court approved the contingency agreement with Nault and did not send the settlement agreement for scrutiny to the guardianship court. Mainor added that local lawyers testified in his behalf but the plaintiff’s experts were mostly from out of state. Harris said the litigation stemmed from a dispute between Louise Nault and the parents, who filed for divorce on their son’s behalf. “What we didn’t anticipate when we made the allocation to the family was that the plaintiffs would break up the family,” he said. The jury deliberated for 11 hours after a three-week trial. It declined to award punitive damages against the two lawyers. Nault v. Mainor, No. A401-657 (Clark Co., Nev., Dist. Ct.). Mainor said he is uncertain whether his lawyers, retained by his insurance company, will appeal. Louise Nault and attorney Rolston were also sued by the Naults but settled. Court papers have since revealed that Rolston settled for $400,000.

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