Horvitz & Levy obtained a new trial for our client, who had been stripped of her inheritance through a trial without legal representation after her attorney suffered a serious and unexpected medical emergency.
Dana Urick’s attorney was set to begin trial on two complex probate petitions with significant sums at issue. Ten days before trial, the attorney, who was the only lawyer at his firm prepared to try the case and who had spent more than 300 hours to do so, suffered a sudden and severe medical emergency. He was hospitalized, had emergency surgery, and was under doctor’s orders not to engage in strenuous work for 30-60 days. The trial court repeatedly denied Dana’s request for a continuance, held an abbreviated trial without anyone to appear for her, and granted petitions to disinherit and remove her as trustee of her mother’s estate.
Horvitz & Levy represented Dana on appeal, and persuaded the Court of Appeal that the lower court had abused its discretion when it refused to continue the trial despite her attorney’s medical emergency. The Court of Appeal held that although trial courts have significant discretion when ruling on continuance motions, they should favor the just resolution of cases on their merits. The Court of Appeal rejected the trial court’s reliance on the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting docket backlog to deny the continuance, and noted that the “extraordinary circumstances of the COVID pandemic and the resulting complications required the court to provide greater accommodations to parties, not fewer, and was not an excuse to deprive a litigant of a fair hearing.”
The Court of Appeal also held that to the extent Dana was required to show prejudicial error, she had established that it was highly likely she would have prevailed at trial if she had been permitted to present the evidence in her favor through prepared trial counsel.