Articles Posted in Legal Malpractice

The statute of limitations for legal malpractice claims in Tennessee is one year from the date the action accrues.  Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(2).  The “discovery rule” determines when the action accrues in most legal malpractice cases.  Tennessee’s discovery rule says that a plaintiff’s time limit to file suit does not start to run until the plaintiff knows or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should know that he or she has an injury as a result of wrongful conduct by a defendant. 

Recently, in Aleo v. Weyant, the Tennessee Court of Appeals examined a case involving a legal malpractice claim against a family law Attorney for failing to include a provision in a marital dissolution agreement and final decree of divorce specifying that the Wife would receive 50% of the Husband’s military pension and that she would be named as beneficiary of the pension.  Attorney raised a statute of limitations defense and the trial court granted summary judgment.

The record showed that Wife went to a Staff Judge Advocate more than a year before she filed suit against Attorney and was advised by the Staff Judge Advocate that she would not get part of Husband’s pension benefits because the divorce decree was silent about that asset.  Since the malpractice lawsuit was not filed within one year of Wife learning that she would not receive pension benefits, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Trial Court and upheld summary judgment.

I am fortunate to receive many calls on many types of cases, some of which fall outside of my normal practice area.  i decided I would seek out a lawyer to whom I could associate on a particular type of case – this lawyer enjoyed a good reputation on cases of this type.  I called him and had a general discussion about the type of calls I was getting and inquired whether he was interested in receiving some referrals.

He said he was, and we had a discussion about how we could work together to assist future clients.  I had a good feeling about the potential of working together.

Then, I asked him to confirm that he carried legal malpractice insurance.  He said he did not,  I told him I could not sleep at night if I did not have legal malpractice insurance for our firm.  He said that if he got sued and put in a position of probable financial loss he would  file bankruptcy and avoid the loss.

The defendant and his law firm was hired to bring a wrongful death action for decendent’s (Anderson’s) estate and to assert loss of consortium action by Anderson’s wife. The case was dismissed, arguably after the experts in the case were thrown out after a Daubert challenge..  Lawyer did not timely appeal the dismissal of the case. Several years later, Anderson’s two children – one still a minor – sued Atty for malpractice. They asserted the statute of limitations for malpractice was tolled by their infancy. Atty resisted discovery and quickly moved for summary judgment, asserting he had no attorney-client relationship with the children. 

Notably, Pete had not asserted a claim for damages for the children  

The trial judge dismissed the case, saying that   did not have privity with Pete, and thus did not enjoy an attorney-client relationship with Pete and lacked standing to sue for professional negligence.

I serve on the Standards Committee of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a division of the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification.  Our members have a duty to report legal malpractice claims that have been filed against them, so from time to time I see claims filed by liability  insurance companies against defense counsel that the companies hired to defend insureds.

So, when I saw this article in the Spring 2011 edition of the Federation of Defense and Insurance Counsel Quarterly, I thought it deserved to be seen by a broader audience. 

The article explains that

A plaintiff in a car accident lawsuit has become a legal malpractice plaintiff.

Sharon Langford has sued a law firm with office in Kentucky and Florida and made some very serious allegations.   Basically, she was alleged to seek health care for her injuries from a specific provider and  that there was a business relationship between the provider and the lawyers.  She also alleges that the provider and the law firm advised her not to submit the bills to her health insurer and that she did not receive documentation of the charges made by the health care provider.

She alleges that the undisclosed relationship between the health care provider and the lawyers resulted in financial and other losses.   Here is a copy of the complaint.

 Legal Malpractice Law Review brought to my attention an interesting legal malpractice case from 1979 in Pennsylvania, Schenkel v. Monheit, 226 Pa. Super. 396 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1979). 

The plaintiff’s lawyer in the underlying case (and now the defendant) failed to sue the original defendant’s employer in an auto accident case.  Plaintiff received a jury verdict of $10,000 in the original case, but said he would have received more had the employer, a corporation, been sued.  So, he sued his lawyer seeking the "extra" money.

The appellate court in the malpractice action disagreed, saying that the corporate employer’s liability was vicarious only and that joining the employer would have only enhanced collectability of the judgment.  The failure to add the employer did not cause damage to the plaintiff because the original judgment was collected in full.

I have written in the past about whether a plaintiff in a legal malpractice action arising out of the alleged mishandling of the plaintiff’s underlying case should have to prove not only that the firm committed malpractice and  that damages would have been awarded if malpractice had not occurred but also that the damages were collectable. This post will link you other posts on this subject.

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that "(1) the amount of damages that would have been collectible in the prior suit is the greater of the amount of a judgment for damages that would have been either paid or collected from the underlying defendant’s net assets; and (2) the time at which collectibility is determined is as of or after the time a judgment was first signed in the underlying case."

The case is AKIN, GUMP, STRAUSS, HAUER & FELD, L.L.P. v. NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND RESEARCH CORPORATION,  No. 07-0818 (Texas Oct. 30, 2009).  Read the opinion here.

I know I did a post on this subject a couple of weeks ago, linking to a site that had some techniques to help lawyers avoid malpractice claims.  But here is another site with yet another handy list of fourteen ways to avoid a claim.

A sample taken directly from the site:   

11. REJECTING CERTAIN CLIENTS AND CASES

This post from the New York Attorney Malpractice Blog includes the full text of an article from New York Lawyer titled "Legal Malpractice Cases May Surge as the Economy Tanks."

The article says that " [a] recent American Bar Association (ABA) study that looked at legal malpractice claims filed between 2004 and 2007 found that the total number of claims increased by more than 36% compared to the previous three-year period."  CNA expects a increase in claims this year that are related to the downfall in the economy.

The American Bar Association has a nice paper titled "The Top Ten Malpractice Traps and How to Avoid Them."  The paper is excerpted from  "Desk Guide Legal Malpractice."  Not all of the "traps" are applicable to those who do tort work on a full-time basis, but there is a lot to be learned from this 11-page document.

Here it is.