FL: personal injury
FACTS: Client appealed a judgment in favor his former attorney alleging that the trial court erred when it did not enter judgment for him plus an award of costs and damages. Client’s suit against attorney arises from a tort case dating back to 1991. The trial court bifurcated the malpractice case into two parts, negligence/liability and then damages. Client prevailed on liability. It was determined that the lawyer’s negligence caused damages to client. However, the jury did not award damages. Client appealed and judgment for the attorney was affirmed. Client argued that the trial court should have entered judgment for him following his success on liability.
ISSUE: Whether the court erred when it did not enter judgment for client following the first phase of the trial and award him costs and fees in connection with that phase?
RULE: To prevail on a claim of legal malpractice a plaintiff must satisfy three elements. First, the plaintiff must have employed the attorney. Second, the attorney must have breached a duty. Third, the attorney’s negligence resulted in and was the proximate cause of loss to the client.
LESSON: To prevail on a legal malpractice claim the petitioner must satisfy all three elements. A petitioner may succeed on some elements and the court can find that the attorney and/or law firm were negligent. However, if that negligence did not cause the petitioner to lose their underlying case then the finding of negligence is irrelevant from the standpoint of being awarded damages. Another take away from the case is if the court bifurcates a case, each newly separated piece does not necessarily hold weight on the other part. Essentially each part becomes a new case and both must be won on its own merits.