Legal malpractice plaintiff must prove elements of claim.

Proof related to potential damages alone are insufficient to sustain a legal malpractice claim in Tennessee.

In Cox v. Vaughan, No. E2023-00930-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 10, 2024) (memorandum opinion), plaintiff filed a legal malpractice claim against defendant attorney. Plaintiff and defendant previously contracted for defendant to represent plaintiff in claims related to an automobile accident. Defendant never filed any claim and avoided communicating with plaintiff. After plaintiff filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility, defendant returned plaintiff’s retainer fee.

Plaintiff subsequently filed this legal malpractice suit, alleging that she suffered damages due to defendant’s failure to follow through on her case. Defendant moved for summary judgment. He asserted that, pursuant to the representation agreement, the scope of his representation of plaintiff was limited to “claims against GMC for breach of contract of implied and express warranties.” Because the statute of limitations for such claims is six years, defendant argued that the claims still existed and plaintiff suffered no damage.

The trial court denied summary judgment. After two continuances, plaintiff  appeared for a hearing with the owner of an auto shop. The shop owner planned to testify regarding damages to plaintiff’s motor home. The trial court dismissed the case, holding that plaintiff failed to offer the required proof on her legal malpractice claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling.

A plaintiff claiming legal malpractice must prove certain elements, including duty, breach of duty, damages and causation. Further, “a plaintiff must prove that she would have obtained relief in the underlying lawsuit, but for the attorney’s malpractice[.]” (internal citation omitted). Here, plaintiff only presented a witness to show possible damages to her motor home, which although relevant, were not enough to prove her case. Plaintiff offered no evidence regarding defendant’s alleged negligence or causation. Because plaintiff failed to support her case with the required evidence, the Court affirmed dismissal.

The Court released this memorandum opinion one month after the case was assigned on briefs.

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