Legal malpractice claim deepens in matter spanning 10-plus years


BENNINGTON -- A woman who sued the attorney representing her and the estate of her late aunt in a wrongful death case six years ago is now filing a lawsuit against her attorney for that case, claiming legal malpractice.

The matter that sparked everything happened on Feb. 25, 2003, when according to a decision issued in 2011 by the Vermont Supreme Court, Celeste Puppolo discovered that her aunt, 83-year-old Eva Puppolo, had died while living at the Crescent Manor Nursing Home.

It has been Celeste Puppolo’s contention that the home was at fault for her aunt’s death, citing a massive bed sore on the woman’s lower back which Puppolo said was severe enough for Eva Puppolo’s spine to visible. Puppolo filed a wrongful death suit against Crescent Manor, claiming that pain medications given to her aunt for the bed sore were administered improperly and against her wishes, and caused her death.

To bring this claim to court, Puppolo approached attorney Chris Dodig, of the law firm Donovan and O’Connor. She also filed a complaint with Bennington Police, and the Department of Aging and Disabilities. Dodig opted not to take the case, citing that the State Medical Examiner had found Eva Puppolo died of natural causes related to heart disease, and that the Department of Aging and Disabilities ruled the bed sore was not something the home could have avoided given Eva Puppolo’s condition.

However, Dodig gave Celeste Puppolo incorrect information about filing deadlines should she pursue a case, so when she sought another attorney and filed the case was thrown out. This led to Puppolo filing a legal malpractice case against Donovan and O’Connor.

To sue Donovan and O’Connor in Vermont Superior Court Civil Division, Puppolo went to attorney John J. Welch Jr., of Rutland. Welch and his firm, J. Welch Jr. LTD, are the defendants in the new legal malpractice case, which has been filed in U.S. District Court District of Vermont. Puppolo is being represented by David G. Carpenter, of the Carpenter Law Firm in Middlebury. Welch is being represented by David Cleary, of Cleary, Shahi, and Aicher, based in Rutland.

Puppolo did not win her lawsuit against Donovan and O’Connor, and appealed jury’s verdict the Vermont Supreme Court, which noted that Puppolo had expressed dissatisfaction with Welch prior to the trial, but ultimately upheld the lower court’s actions.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court accused Welch of legal malpractice, alleging that he failed to depose Dodig, serve discovery on Dodig, depose an expert witness, call a certain expert witness, did not call a certain nurse working for Crescent Manor, use the Bennington Police report, make a claim of false records, use audio tapes to impeach a witness, use forensic evidence, and allowing evidence to be admitted that harmed Puppolo’s case.

All told, Puppolo is seeking damages in the amount of $10.5 million, plus $31,000 she claimed Welch was given for the services of an expert witness, out of which about $7,000 was given to Dodig by Welch. The complaint offers no explanation for this.

Cleary told the Banner that this case was filed once already in U.S. District Court but there was an issue with Puppolo representing herself and being the estate’s administrator. He said he has not yet seen the new complaint, but feels there is no grounds for a malpractice claim.

Carpenter could not be reached for comment.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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