Tort Law

Lawyer Loses Suit Claiming Failure to Read Divorce Decree


A Virginia lawyer has lost a malpractice suit that claimed she negligently failed to read a divorce decree before signing it.

A jury found that Newport News lawyer Amy Van Fossen and her former law firm, Jones Blechman, were negligent and awarded their former client, Nancy Nicholson, $420,000 in damages, the Daily Press reports.

The divorce decree was originally drafted by a lawyer for Nicholson’s estranged husband, a minister who once made $124,000 a year, the story says. The decree gave Nicholson half of her husband’s $2,200 monthly Air Force retirement check, but no spousal support based on his future income, Nicholson’s lawyer, Jeremiah Denton, told the publication.

The decree also barred Nicholson from getting spousal support unless her condition materially worsened—an unlikely scenario since Nicholson, then 60 years old, had just filed for bankruptcy, she claimed in the suit.

“You’re supposed to look at what the other attorney writes,” Denton, a Virginia Beach lawyer, told the Daily Press. If Van Fossen read the decree, he said, “I can’t explain how you read that thing and not comprehend it.”

Norfolk lawyer Brian Casey, who represented Van Fossen and the law firm, said he would file a motion to set aside the verdict. “We don’t believe the verdict accurately reflects the evidence presented at trial,” he said.

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