Lawsuits Against Fieger Claim Malpractice
Written by MaritimeHelp on 5 Mar 2016
Geoffrey Fieger is well known around Traverse City as a prominent attorney with a long and impressive record of success. Amongst other things, he defended Dr. Jack Kevorkian back in 1994. He also ran for governor of Michigan—albeit unsuccessfully—in 1998.
However, recent lawsuits have been filed in Grand Traverse County that may permanently tarnish his record if they’re successful. According to the lawsuits, Fieger committed legal malpractice while working on a pair of cases that involved the death of a local teen who was electrocuted and then drowned in Clinch Park’s marina.
An Unsuccessful Case
Back in 2011, Michael Knudsen, 18, tragically died while swimming in a local marina. While the teenager was in the water, a broken cable—owned by the city—caused an electrical leak. As he swam away from a floating dock, the faulty ground system caused him to become electrocuted.
Fieger was hired by Knudsen’s family to represent them in lawsuits against a number of defendants, including Clinch Marina and Traverse City. He also represented Zachary Kott-Millard in a related suit against the same defendants. Kott-Millard alleged he was shocked as soon as he dove into the water to save the teenager.
State municipal immunity protected the city and the marina, though, and the cases against them were eventually dismissed.
The lawsuits being filed against him—two 13th Circuit Court complaints—claim that Fieger pursued the aforementioned cases under Michigan law even though he knew that opposing counsel for the city and marina would move to have them dismissed based on the grounds of immunity.
According to the complaint, Fieger should have decided to go with an admiralty law case instead.
“Generally speaking, governmental immunity of municipal corporations is not recognized by admiralty law,” said Richard Goodman, an attorney based in Detroit who is representing both Michael Knudsen’s family and Zachary Kott-Millard in the separate filings. He is joined by another attorney from Detroit, Kathleen Kalahar.
Furthermore, he added that the heart of the matter of these suits is that the prior lawsuits filed against the state and marina meet two essential elements of maritime law (also known as admiralty law).
First of all, the accident took place on navigable waters. This includes the Grand Traverse Bay and Great Lakes. The facts of the case also relate to traditional maritime activity. In this specific case, that would be the marina’s operations.
The complaint against Fieger states that the prominent attorney denied his clients the opportunity to receive punitive damages and also denied them the possibility of a substantial verdict or settlement.
“A Phony Lawsuit”?
For his part, Fieger has claimed the case is nothing more than a “phony lawsuit” created by Dean Robb, a civil rights lawyer who also served as Fieger’s co-counsel during the initial Knudsen and Kott-Millard suits.
He has stated that there is “no such thing” as an admiralty claim in a situation like this where someone was electrocuted on a dock.
“The suit is going to be dismissed,” Fieger said.
While Robb has not given a public comment on the case, he has directed any questions to his co-counsel in this case, Richard Goodman. He said the matter will be tried “based on its merits in open court.”
“As far as I know, Mr. Fieger will not be the judge in this case,” he added.
This is definitely a unique case for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it involves two prior co-counsels now going up against each other. Obviously, the actual facts about the original case—which resulted in Michael Knudsen’s death—also make it tough to predict what the outcome will be.