Nursing Home Fights Back

After losing a negligence case for $1.6 million, the Rose Care Inc. nursing home chain has sued its Texas attorneys for malpractice.

It's a tangled story, so pay attention.

Rose Care, which is now known as Pinnacle Healthcare, replaced its Little Rock law firm, Friday Eldredge & Clark, with the Dallas law firm Godwin Gruber LLP around August 2003.

Before Godwin started defending Rose Care, though, Godwin attorney G. Michael Stewart monitored one last trial with the Friday team in October 2003. During the trial, Stewart became intimate with a manager for the Rogers company, Michele Rose.

"Stewart rubbed Ms. Rose's feet and legs while they were in attendance at the ... trial," the lawsuit said.

Stewart subsequently handled the defense of a case filed against Rose Care in Saline County. The plaintiff asked for $300,000 to settle the suit, and Michele Rose was inclined to accept the settlement offer, according to the suit.

But Stewart advised rejecting the offer and proceeding to trial.

"Given the past personal relationship, Ms. Rose felt intimidated by Stewart and acceded to his request," the lawsuit said.

She should have listened to her gut. At the trial in 2004, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Helen Ross, and awarded her $1.6 million.

Rose Care appealed the verdict and reached a confidential settlement agreement with Ross. But Stewart didn't report the settlement to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which then upheld the $1.6 million verdict in an opinion issued on June 1, 2005.

Fortunately for Rose Care, Ross had already accepted the settlement money.

"However, because Godwin Gruber and Stewart failed to notify the Court of Appeals that the matter had been settled, the Court of Appeals' opinion is considered law in those matters to which it pertain," the lawsuit said.

Rose Care is suing for legal malpractice, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. It is seeking more than $3 million in damages.

Godwin Gruber's attorney, Sidney P. Davis Jr. of Fayetteville, was unavailable for comment. Stewart also was unavailable for comment.