CHARLESTON – A prominent Charleston already named as a defendant in a legal malpractice lawsuit now has been named in a potential class action.

Jim Humphreys and James F. Humphreys & Associates LC are listed as defendants in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by Beverly McCormick over the firm’s alleged mishandling of a mass tort case against Celotex for harm they had claimed to have suffered as a result of asbestos exposure. The number of potential plaintiffs exceeds 500, according to the complaint.

Humphreys and his firm already face claims they “failed completely” to pursue claims that an elderly Virginia couple’s home and property were damaged by flooding and rains resulting from Hurricane Camille in July 2001. Ira Calvary Horne and Mavis Horne filed their lawsuit in September 2014.

In the new Celotex complaint, McCormick claims Humphreys and his firm negligently failed to follow procedure for properly submitting the plaintiffs’ claims against Celotex. It’s similar to the allegations against Humphreys and his firm in the Calvary complaint.

“Consequently, plaintiffs were precluded from receiving the settlement to which they were entitled from the designated fund,” the complaint states. “After realizing that plaintiffs’ claims had not in fact been submitted, defendants sought to conceal their error. Instead of disclosing what had happened, defendants intentionally misled plaintiffs as to the status of their claims.

“As such, defendants committed legal malpractice by purposefully failing to disclose to plaintiffs that their claims against Celotex had never been submitted and, consequently, were never processed.”

In the late 1990s, Celotex filed bankruptcy during the asbestos litigation that Humphreys and his firm were involve in, according to the complaint. Because Celotex was in bankruptcy by the time the firm filed the claims, the Bankruptcy Court exercised control over the process of settling the claims. So, the Bankruptcy Court imposed deadlines for actions.

Celotex used asbestos in insulation products that became the subject of many asbestos lawsuits.

A negotiated settlement was approved by the Court, which put a grid/matrix based on individuals’ level of exposure, risk and injury in place. The attorneys had to submit the appropriate paperwork to recover money for their clients. The Court set a cut-off date for submission of claims. But Humphreys’ firm, according to the complaint, missed that deadline.

The complaint claims hundreds of client claims were not submitted by the court-mandated deadline. But, Humphreys “erroneously believed that Celotex was going to honor the time-barred claims.”

When the firm realized the claims wouldn’t be honored, they “began a ‘cover up,’ with the result that clients who would have recovered settlement monies have recovered nothing to date,” the complaint states.

This cover up, the suit claims, included a directive to employees not to disclose “the filing blunder” to any client.

“Instead, defendants represented to plaintiffs that their claims against Celotex were lost because of the bankruptcy, lack of medical evidence, inadequate provision of information by claimants, diagnosis from the wrong doctor and a panoply of other contrived excuses in order to hide their negligence,” the complaint states.

In addition to seeking answers about when Humphreys and his firm know what about the claims, McCormick and the other potential plaintiffs also seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees, court costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief.

They are represented by Charleston attorney Rod Jackson, who also represents Horne in the other legal malpractice claim against Humphreys.

“It’s cover up number two,” Jackson said of the McCormick complaint. “Just more of the same.”

Jackson also said he believes there are anywhere from 500 to 700 potential class victims.

“We have to be able to identify those through discovery, and they’ll get a notice to see if they want to join the suit,” he said.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 15-C-1847

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