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The mother of Brittany Murphy has filed a lawsuit against the attorneys that represented her in a suit against the builders of the home where the actress died, claiming the lawyers never told her about a possible wrongful death suit due to mold in the house.
The suit by Sharon Murphy in Los Angeles Superior Court comes nearly two years after the Dec. 20, 2009 death of Brittany Murphy, which was followed by the May 2010 death of Brittany’s husband Simon Monjack. Sharon Murphy apparently did not become convinced that toxic mold was a cause in the death of her daughter and son-in-law until this past summer, when she was in the process of selling the house in the Hollywood Hills.
In fact, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that while the issue of toxic mold had come up previously, Sharon Murphy did not believe at the time her 32-year-old daughter or 39-year-old son-in-law died that mold was a cause of death.
According to Ed Winter, assistant chief coroner of Los Angeles County, the coroner’s office specifically looked for evidence of mold during the autopsies of both Murphy and Monjack and did not find any. Winter told THR on Monday that at the time of Monjack’s death, Sharon Murphy told him she did not believe mold was the cause and she would not permit an inspection of the house by the L.A. health department as the coroner had requested.
This all took place during a period when Sharon Murphy was understandably upset about what had happened to her daughter and son-in-law.
In a complaint filed Monday, Sharon Murphy charges the firm of Steiner & Libo with legal malpractice, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty for not properly informing her that in January 2011 — when she accepted the final settlement of that earlier lawsuit — she was giving up her right to sue for the wrongful death of her daughter due to the presence of mold in the 13-year-old, 8,000-square-foot-home.
The coroner had found that pneumonia was one of the causes of their deaths.
The suit says that the law firm that was first hired in early 2009 “should have known that Brittany and Simon had died and that their deaths were the result of complications from conditions associated with the subject property,“ the suit alleges. The law firm “had a duty to advise and/or inform (Sharon Murphy) that she may have had a wrongful death claim.”
Sharon and Brittany Murphy had purchased the five-bedroom home from singer Britney Spears in June 2003 for $3.85 million. Spears for a time lived there with Justin Timberlake until their relationship ended.
On Monday, attorneys Bob M. Cohen and Michael Marzban, who represent Sharon Murphy, declined to comment on the litigation. A call to David Libo of the Steiner & Libo firm was not returned.
Sharon Murphy had been very close with her daughter, who became a TV and movie star as a teenager, and starred in such movies as Clueless, 8 Mile and Just Married. After Brittany married Monjack in 2007, the three resided in the big house together. Monjack remained in the house with Sharon Murphy after his wife’s sudden death from what the coroner ruled was pneumonia, anemia and an excess of prescription drugs. Monjack’s death five months later was ruled to have been caused by pneumonia and anemia.
The suit against the builder and others involved in the construction and later re-construction of the house had been filed in 2006 in the name of Brittany Murphy’s corporation, The Nina Bow Trust. In early 2009, apparently at the suggestion of Monjack, they had changed lawyers, hiring the firm of Steiner & Libo. The attorney who primarily represented them was David Libo.
Sometime shortly before Monjack’s sudden death, an out of court settlement was reached in the suit with the builder and various construction entities. That suit was finalized and a check for $600,000 was delivered to Sharon Murphy in January 2010, according to attorney Michael T. Montgomery, who represented Elliott Horitch, the original builder of the house.
Also in January 2010, TMZ reported that Sharon Murphy was facing a possible foreclosure on the property. After negotiations, there was no foreclosure action. In July, the property was sold for $2.7 million, according to a report filed with Los Angeles County.
In the final weeks she owned the house, Sharon Murphy moved to a hotel because of her concern about the mold problem. She has since moved to another residence.
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