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MI: Defining the Attorney Client Relationship

Kopulos v. Scott, Court of Appeals of Michigan, February 2011 

MI: Underlying consultation for Personal Injury Claim; declined representation

Facts: In October or November 2003, Kopulos contacted the defendants attorneys about a potential claim against her landlord for carbon monoxide poisoning. During the consultation, plaintiff referred to a December 2002 motor vehicle accident in which she was involved. After investigating the potential carbon monoxide claim, defendants ultimately declined to represent plaintiff. In September 2008, plaintiffs filed this action for legal malpractice, alleging that defendants failed to advise plaintiff, during the discussions concerning the potential carbon monoxide claim, of her right to pursue, and the time limit for seeking, no-fault benefits for injuries she sustained in the earlier motor vehicle accident. The trial court concluded that plaintiff could not pursue the malpractice action on the ground there was no attorney-client relationship between plaintiff and defendants. Accordingly, the court granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition.

Kopulos appealed. 

Issue: Did the Defendant attorneys enter into an attorney-client relationship with Kopulos? Did the Defendant attorneys have a duty to provide any advice with regard to the motor vehicle accident? 

Ruling: No. 

[The Defendant attorney’s] recommendation that plaintiff obtain a medical evaluation to differentiate the causes of her ailments was not a "rendering of legal advice" from which this Court can conclude that an attorney-client relationship existed. The parties’ conduct in this case was consistent only with a consultation and investigation, not an agreement that defendants would represent plaintiff. Moreover, to the extent that the evidence supports the existence of an attorney-client relationship, it establishes that the scope of that relationship was limited to a potential claim against plaintiff’s landlord for carbon monoxide poisoning, not any claims arising from a motor vehicle accident. Although plaintiffs emphasize that defendants were aware of the accident, defining the scope of an attorney’s representation and duty by the attorney’s mere knowledge of facts that may give rise to a claim is both unworkable and contrary to the contractual nature of the attorney-client relationship.

Lesson: While an attorney-client relationship is not always dependent on a formal contract, the relationship will not be created merely by way of an informal discussion concerning a potential claim regarding which no legal advice/services are ever provided. 

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Posted in: Engagement, Michigan