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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Lawyer Off the Hook for Death of His Private Eye

(CN) - The widow of private investigator killed while serving divorce papers cannot sue his attorney-client for not relaying those risks, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled.

Attorney Sherwin Jacobs retained Arthur Brown, owner of Argus Investigative Services in Harrisonburg, Va., to serve divorce papers certain divorce papers in March 2011.

When Brown was trying to serve those papers, the target, Ali Abid, shot and killed Brown. Three days later, police found Brown's body in the trunk of his own car.

After obtaining a default judgment in her 2011 wrongful-death complaint against Abid, Brown's wife, Debara amended her complaint to include Jacobs.

Brown said Jacobs had been negligent in failing to warn her husband "of the danger of personally serving ... Abid or of the danger that ... Abid would cause (Brown) harm or was a risk to cause him harm."

She alleged that Abid carried a gun everywhere and displayed paranoid behavior, and that Jacobs was aware of this information in representing Abid's wife.

"Jacobs was concerned ... Abid would become violent," Brown told the Rockingham County Circuit Court.

The trial court dismissed Brown's claims against Jacobs, however, and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed on Feb. 26 that the attorney did not his PI a duty to warn.

"This court has never recognized as a special relationship that of attorney/private investigator," Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn wrote for the court's seven-justice panel.

Despite Jacobs' instructions on when and how to serve the papers to Abid, Brown was not bound by those directions, the court added.

"Indeed, at the time service of process was attempted, Jacobs had instructed him to serve Abid 'however and whenever' he could," Goodwyn wrote.

"Because [Mrs.] Brown failed to allege facts sufficient to establish a special relationship in the amended complaint, she failed to establish the 'threshold requirement' necessary to show that Jacobs had a duty to warn the decedent," the decision continues.

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