Well-known disability attorney Eric C. Conn has been held liable for committing malpractice in representing hundreds of former clients.
The uncontested liability judgment, signed by Floyd Circuit Judge Johnny Ray Harris, could pave the way for the former clients to recover some money from Conn’s malpractice insurance.
However, it appears that any payments could be small given the number of clients, and there is a court battle over whether Conn’s insurance company will cover him.
“While we won an important battle today, we still have some road to travel before we can get compensation to those former clients who are struggling,” Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who represents people suing Conn, said on Facebook.
Conn won Social Security disability benefits for thousands of Eastern Kentucky residents, but he pleaded guilty March 24 to submitting false medical information in cases and to bribing a federal judge who rubber-stamped claims.
Charges remain against David B. Daugherty, the judge whom Conn said initiated the scheme by soliciting payments from him, and Pikeville psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins, who allegedly signed false mental-impairment evaluations of Conn’s clients.
After the allegations of fraud came to light, the Social Security Administration told more than 1,700 of Conn’s former clients in May 2015 that it would re-determine their eligibility.
The process continues, but hundreds of people have lost benefits, Pillersdorf said.
He filed a class-action lawsuit covering 1,500 of Conn’s former clients who alleged that he failed to submit and safeguard medical records, and that he improperly collected fees.
Conn’s attorney, Scott White, said Conn agreed to accept to accept liability to try to help his former clients.
“Eric really wants to make right as much as he can,” White said.
He said the government’s move to cut off benefits for Conn’s former clients created a humanitarian crisis in Eastern Kentucky.
The agency has said it handled the issue properly.
Floyd Circuit Judge Johnny Ray Harris approved the agreed judgment Friday.
The next step will be to determine whether Conn’s insurance company has to cover him. The company has declined coverage and has declined to pay for a lawyer to represent Conn, according to court records.
Conn sued the company to enforce coverage. Essentially, he is suing for of his former clients’ benefit, White said.
He said there could be two policies at issue, totaling $750,000 to $800,000 in coverage.
If Conn wins, he also would get attorney fees. If that happens, Conn wants the fees turned over to his former clients, and that could push the amount available closer to $1 million, White said.
Even at that amount, individual awards could total less than $1,000, depending on how many clients are ultimately involved.
Conn has been ordered to pay the government $5.7 million as part of his plea and to make restitution of $46 million to Social Security.
A judge also ordered him to pay a total of $31 million in damages and penalties in a federal false-claims lawsuit. None of that money would go to former clients.