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FL: Privity, a Continuing Relationship?

Elkind v. Bennett, 958 So.2d 1088 (2007).

FL: Underlying labor dispute

Student Contributor: Farah Shahidpour

Facts: Client hired Attorney to represent himself, his business venture, and his business partner in a labor dispute brought against the business. The suit was one for harassment. The matters were settled, and Attorney signed the settlement on behalf of Client. Six months later, Attorney wrote a latter to the trustees of the business, revealing confidential information he learned from his prior representation of Client. The company used this information to have Client fired and removed from the venture, causing him damage. Client sued Attorney, alleging legal malpractice. The trial court dismissed the complaint because Client had not stated a cause of action for legal malpractice. The court noted that Attorney had disclosed the confidential information obtained from Client after his representation of Client, and thus was not in privity with Client at the time of disclosure. The trial court reasoned that the complaint should be dismissed for failure to allege privity. Client now appeals.

Issue: Whether the trial court properly dismissed Client’s action for legal malpractice for failing to allege privity?

Ruling: No, the trial court improperly dismissed Client’s action for legal malpractice because Attorney had a continuing duty to his Client not to disclose confidences. This duty continued even past the termination of the matter for which representation was sought.

Lesson: Florida recognizes a cause of action for disclosure of confidential information. In a legal malpractice action, a plaintiff must prove three elements: the attorney’s employment, the attorney’s neglect of a reasonable duty and that such negligence resulted in and was the proximate cause of loss to the plaintiff. Brennan v. Ruffner, 640 So.2d 143, 145 (1994). A plaintiff must allege what confidence was breached and how its disclosure damaged the Plaintiff.

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Posted in: Florida, Labor & Employent, Privity