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PA: Possibility of Harm Is Not Enough to Prove Actual Harm

Veneri v. Pappano, 424 Pa. Super. 394, 622 A.2d 977 (1993).

PA: Underlying felony conviction case

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: The client was convicted of two related robberies and sentenced to twenty-five to fifty years in prison. The lawyer was a public defender assigned to the client’s case. The client claims he informed the lawyer that wanted to file a petition for allowance of appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The lawyer did not file the petition, so the client filed it by himself. The client then filed a complaint against the lawyer for negligence in failing to file the petition. The trial court dismissed the complaint and the client appeals.

Issue: Does the client’s complaint state a cause of action in negligence against the lawyer?

Ruling: No. The three elements for a cause of action for negligence are (1) employment of the lawyer, (2) failure of lawyer to act with ordinary skill and knowledge, and (3) that the lawyer’s negligence was a proximate cause of harm to the client. A client must also show that he likely would have won the underlying dispute. Here, the client did not suffer any real harm. The only harm he might have suffered as a result of the lawyer’s failure to file the petition was his right to habeas corpus relief. Since the client did file the petition, he suffered no real damage as a result of the lawyer’s conduct. As a result, his claim against the lawyer is speculative and does not meet the requirements of an action for negligence. In addition, the client did not make any showing that his claims were likely to be successful. Thus, the client’s case was properly dismissed.

Lesson: Speculative claims of future harm are not enough to rise to a viable cause of action. A client will not succeed in legal malpractice claims when he only asserts a possibility that he might be harmed as a result of the lawyer’s conduct. Also, a client must not forget to assert the likelihood that he would have prevailed in his underlying dispute if not for the lawyer’s malpractice.

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Posted in: Criminal Law, Pennsylvania