A couple formerly from Hagerstown filed suit yesterday against noted Baltimore medical malpractice lawyer Marvin Ellin, alleging that he failed to file their claim in time, then tried to cover up his negligence.
Janet and Donald Rowland, now of Hedgesville, W.Va., originally filed the legal malpractice suit in April 1992 in Baltimore Circuit Court against two other lawyers and another law firm without naming Mr. Ellin as a defendant. In a revised version of the lawsuit, filed yesterday in Circuit Court, Mr. Ellin and his firm became the primary focus.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages generally ranging from $25 million to $50 million on various allegations of fraud, negligence, breach of contract, conspiracy and legal malpractice against several defendants.
Other defendants named in the lawsuit are LaVonna Vice, an associate in the firm of Ellin & Baker; Richard R. Beauchemin, a lawyer who referred the Rowlands to Mr. Ellin; and Mr. Beauchemin's former law firm of Arnold, Bacot, Gay & Tingle.
In the suit, Mrs. Rowland, 49, said her medical problems began when she was injured in an auto accident in June 1981.
Mrs. Rowland underwent disc surgery in June 1982, according to the suit, and the surgeon negligently severed several major blood vessels, nearly killing her and leaving her permanently disabled despite repeated surgeries and hospitalizations.
According to the suit, another lawyer referred the couple to Mr. Ellin. But they claimed Mr. Ellin failed to file their medical malpractice claim until July 1985 -- a month beyond the three-year statute of limitations -- although he should have known the deadline.
After the medical malpractice claim was dismissed by the state Health Claims Arbitration Office, the Rowlands said in the suit, FTC Mr. Ellin had them move to West Virginia so he could sue the surgeon and other physicians in federal court. Mr. Ellin falsely told the federal court that the Rowlands hadn't learned of the medical malpractice until 1983, according to the suit.
But the medical malpractice suit again was dismissed for failure to file the claim in time, the Rowlands said in the suit. The action was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review the case.
Yesterday, Mr. Ellin denounced the Rowlands' allegations, calling them "purely ridiculous."
He said he hadn't seen the amended legal malpractice suit, but he recalled that the problem of timeliness in filing the medical malpractice case stemmed from Mrs. Rowland's telling him that she and her husband didn't learn of the surgeon's mistake until 1983, legally adding an extra year to the statute of limitations.
"I've filed dozens of cases after three years because the patient was lied to," Mr. Ellin noted. He angrily denounced the lawsuit's contentions that he defrauded and lied to cover up his own malpractice.
"They were complaining that this case was not served in time," he said. "[Now] these are phrases and words that I believe are simply being used in a purely inflammatory manner and are purely ridiculous."
Referring to the Rowlands' attorney, Charles J. Piven, Mr. Ellin said, "Obviously, Mr. Piven and his clients realize they are immune from libel and slander [within a lawsuit], but let him utter these things outside the judicial context and he'll be defending a lawsuit against himself."