The sons of a man who collected millions of dollars in a medical malpractice suit are suing his former lawyers for legal malpractice in Cook County court, saying they wrongly allowed the man’s wife to control the money collected in the judgment.
Rudy Contreras, administrator of the estate of Francisco Contreras, along with his brothers, Axel Contreras and Francisco Contreras, all Cook County residents, are taking aim at attorneys Cindy Fluxgold, Michael J. Baron, Lorenzo Valladolid and the Chicago firm of Goldstein, Fluxgold & Baron, P.C., saying their malpractice led to the improper designation of the elder Francisco Contreras’ wife, Sandra J. Contreras, as the primary beneficiary for the annuities established in the medical malpractice settlement.
According to the complaint, filed April 11, Goldstein, Fluxgold & Baron began representing Francisco and Sandra Contreras on July 25, 2007, to pursue a medical malpractice claim against Thorek Memorial Hospital in Cook County Circuit Court. They accused the hospital, doctors, nurses and technicians of negligence that left Francisco Contreras a quadriplegic. Sandra was also listed as a plaintiff in the 2007 litigation, seeking $100,000 for loss of consortium.
On April 21, 2011, the court entered a settlement approval for $18.75 million. Of that, $6.9 million went to purchase four annuities. The lawyers collected $5.6 million in fees, while Sandra received $300,000 for loss of consortium. Apart from that, Francisco Contreras received an additional $5 million.
Though the complaint does not name Sandra Contreras as a plaintiff, the brothers’ allege she had “undue influence” over her husband, as he was fully dependent on her given his physical incapacity. She was named a joint account holder and primary beneficiary of certain bank accounts, “despite his intent to make his estate the beneficiary of his property and accounts,” the complaint alleged. That she was named to bank accounts was for convenience of managing the money “and ostensibly not due to any intent to give” her those funds, they argued.
The brothers say Sandra “provoked arguments” with them every time they visited their father and threatened to prevent him from seeing his daughter, also named Sandra, “unless he succumbed to her demands.” The brothers say they cut back on visits because they feared the arguments had a negative effect on their father’s health. And although they say he “enjoyed competent medical health care” in Chicago, his wife moved Contreras “to a small village in Guatemala that did not have adequate health care,” where he died July 25, 2013. The complaint alleged Sandra Contreras was attending a party in the United States at the time of Francisco’s death.
The ongoing dispute is the subject of a separate asset recovery petition in the estate’s pending probate case. As part of that action, a March 13 subpoena deposition of Daniel McCarthy, principal of Waterville Advisors, LLC, revealed the alleged legal improprieties in preparation of the annuitant checklist, including what the brothers alleged were alterations and copies of the original annuities checklist Francisco Contreras signed, which allegedly did not contain any beneficiary designation. They say the lawyers allowed a non-original form — copied and altered — to be substituted instead of the original form Contreras allegedly signed.
Formal allegations in the Contreras brothers’ complaint include negligence, aiding and abetting and breach of contract. The brothers said Goldstein, Fluxgold &Baron prevented the estate from amassing funds the annuities generated and forced them to incur legal fees in attempting to correct the affects of the alleged activity.
Representing the brothers in the matter are the Law Offices of Michael Lee Tinaglia, Ltd., of Park Ridge.