An automobile accident occurred and, as a result, the appellee suffered serious injuries. He was taken to a Medical Center where he was evaluated by several physicians, including a surgeon, an orthopedist, and a radiologist. However, these physicians misinterpreted appellee’s x-rays and radiological studies, and negligently concluded that he did not suffer a recent spinal injury, specifically a spinal column injury. Consequently, the attending Bronx surgeon and assistant encouraged appellee to attempt to walk approximately a week after the automobile accident. When he arose from the bed, appellee felt a shock and collapsed. He was then transferred to another Medical Center, a Regional Medical Center (second Medical Center), where he underwent surgery on his spine, but the surgery was not successful in reversing the spinal column damage, the spinal injury. The appellee then retained a lawyer of a certain law firm to investigate and initiate a legal malpractice action against the various physicians. The lawyer considered joining the physicians individually in the malpractice suit but, for various reasons, he decided not to join. He sent an “intent to sue” only to the two Medical Centers and its physicians. However, when the complaint was filed, the first Medical Center was not named. Thereafter, during discovery, the lawyer realized that the second Medical Center’s defense was based upon the comparative fault of the first Medical Center and its physicians. At this point, the statute of limitations had already expired, and the lawyer realized the potential of a legal malpractice claim for failing to join them. Thus, the lawyer then contacted his insurance company and referred the appellee to a new counsel.
The appellee and the second Medical Center, and its physicians, entered into a settlement agreement in the amount of $1,000,000, and then brought a legal malpractice action against the lawyer and his firm, which the Westchester Insurance Company agreed to settle for the policy limits. However, the parties disputed whether the “per claim” amount applied or whether the “aggregate” amount applied. Specifically, the parties disputed whether the attorney’s failure to name the first Medical Center and each individual physician constituted independent wrongful acts or a single claim. So, the appellee filed a declaratory judgment action to determine the issue. He claimed that the policy provided $250,000 per wrongful act with a $500,000 aggregate for multiple wrongful acts. Because the lawyer committed multiple wrongful acts, the appellee claimed that he was entitled to the aggregate limits. The Insurance Company argued that the policy was a claims-made policy and that the policy provided $250,000 per claim rather than per wrongful act; that, since there was only one claim, the appellee was entitled to only $250,000 in coverage. The trial court agreed with the appellee and, on motion for summary judgment, entered a judgment in favor of the appellee for the aggregate limits. Based upon its interpretation of the policy, the trial court found that there were several acts of malpractice during the legal representation of appellees. Thus, the trial ruled that the appellees were entitled to the aggregate policy limits. The Insurance Company now appeals the said judgment.
The issues for the court’s determination is whether or not, pursuant to the insurance policy of the law firm the aggregate policy limit should apply where the appellee’s attorney committed multiple wrongful acts by failing to join several defendants in his medical malpractice action; whether or not, because each of the defendants had separate insurance coverage available to pay a damage award, appellee had multiple claims against his attorney.