Lawyer pursued future pain compensation for client who had died, ethics complaint says

  • Print

money and gavel

Image from Shutterstock.

Updated: A Chicago lawyer sought compensation for “future pain and physical limitations” in settlement negotiations for a client who had already died, according to an ethics complaint.

Lawyer John Paul Kolb’s settlement demand for $245,000 said the client would likely suffer from “significant arthritis” as a result of his injuries, according to the May 5 complaint by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Kolb was aware of the client’s death when he made the settlement demand, the disciplinary commission alleges.

Kolb no longer had the authority to represent his client, Kyle Moon, after Moon died, the ethics complaint says. Instead, the client’s family would have to pursue a claim through a representative of his estate appointed by the probate court.

The insurer made a counteroffer of $50,000, and Kolb agreed to settle the case for $60,000, according to the complaint. Kolb sent an email to his employer, the Disparti Law Group, that read, “Settled $60,000. Client is dead from unrelated cause. Settled without adj knowledge of death.”

“Adj” was a reference to the insurance adjuster, according to the ethics complaint. The insurer later refused to settle when its lawyer received a settlement document indicating that the party entering the agreement was the administrator of the client’s estate, rather than the client.

The change to the document was made by Kolb or an employee acting under his direction, the complaint says.

Moon was injured in April 2016 while riding in a taxi that collided with another vehicle. His fee agreement with the Disparti Law Group provided for a contingency fee of 33.33% if the case settled and 40% if a lawsuit was filed.

Moon died in January 2017 from causes unrelated to the automobile crash. His mother notified the law firm of Moon’s death two days later.

Kolb did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s voicemail seeking comment. Online records indicate that he currently works for a different law firm.

In a Nov. 7, 2023, statement to the Journal, Kolb said he served a one-month suspension over the holidays. It was effective Dec. 14, 2022.

“I admitted that the language regarding possible future pain and suffering was wrong,” he said. “I added it based on the medical records, and I should not have put that in there since he had died. I regret that misrepresentation.”

But Kolb said he contested any duty to inform an insurance company about the death of a claimant before litigation.

“There isn’t any specific rule or caselaw directly requiring prelitigation disclosure,” he said.

He also contested the allegation that he didn’t have a client because he “represented the heirs of the deceased,” and he had their full authority, he said.

“Heirs have legal rights regardless of a written contingency fee agreement,” he said.

Nor did he alter an existing document, Kolb said.

“The ‘alteration’ was in fact just another attorney’s addition of the title of the administrator to the signature line, evidencing the authority to sign on behalf of the estate,” he said.

Hat tip to Law360 and the Legal Profession Blog, which covered the complaint.

Updated Nov. 7, 2023, at 11:15 a.m. to report on John Paul Kolb’s suspension and statement.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.