Reifer v. Westport Ins. Corp., No. 13-2880 (3d Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Reifer suffered a worker’s compensation injury at IU-20 where she provided special education. Her injuries prevented her from returning to work. She retained Attorney Russo. Russo carried legal malpractice insurance with Westport in compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. When IU-20 initiated disciplinary proceedings against Reifer, Russo failed to appear at the hearing. When IU-20 terminated her, Russo failed to appeal. Russo filed suit alleging violation of Reifer’s employment rights, which he lost for failure to exhaust state remedies. When Reifer sought alternate employment, Russo advised her to answer an application question as to whether she had ever been terminated in the negative. Reifer was terminated and disciplined for the false answer. Reifer commenced a malpractice claim against Russo. Russo’s “claims-made” policy only covered losses claimed during the policy period or within 60 days of the policy’s expiration. Russo failed to inform Westport of the action until several months after the policy lapsed and he failed to secure a replacement policy. Westport refused to defend Russo. Russo admitted liability. A jury awarded Reifer $4,251,516. Russo assigned to Reifer his rights under the Westport policy. Reifer sought a declaratory judgment that Westport was required to show it was prejudiced by Russo’s failure to notify and, failing to do so, owed a duty to defend and indemnify. The federal district court, sua sponte declined to exercise jurisdiction and remanded to state court. The Third Circuit affirmed.