A Northeast Washington couple yesterday was awarded $16,000 by a D.C. Superior Court jury from an attorney who they contended did not properly represent them in a personal injury case growing out of an automobile accident six years ago.
The jury awarded $14,000 to Richard C. West, 48, a deputy U.S. marshal, to compensate for permanent injuries he suffered as a result of an accident caused by a Greyhound bus in 1973. His wife, Karine, was awarded $2,000 for "loss of consortium" as a result of her husband's injuries.
The judgement was against attorney Fortunato J. Mendes, who was accused by the Wests of not filing a civil suit in connection with the accident before expiration of a three-year statute of limitations.
Mendes testified in the case that he did not file suit because the Wests fired him in a letter dated Feb. 24, 1976, after they refused to accept an $8,600 settlement offer Mendes had negotiated with the Greyhound firm.
According to testimony in the case, the Wests were stopped in a line of traffic in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel in their family car on March 7, 1973, when a Greyhound bus collided with a stopped car which was forced into the rear of the car being driven by Richard West.
Mendes was retained by the Wests to represent them in their claims for damages. But he "negligently failed" to file suit in the case before the statute of limitations ran out, according to testimony.
The Wests, represented by attorney Ben Cotten, contended that they fired Mendes in September 1976, and hired another attorney to file a suit on their behalf. However, that suit was dismissed because it was not submitted within the time limits.
Attorney Richard J. Hopkins, who represented Mendes, argued that his client was actually fired in February 1976. The statute of limitations expired on March 7.
Hopkins argued that in a second letter to Mendes on March 7, 1976, the Wests informed him that they wanted him to attempt to settle the case, even though they understood the statute of limitations had run out.