PA Underlying Representation: Personal Injury
Facts: Plaintiffs retained Attorney 1 to sue Plaintiff Husband’s employer for injuries suffered while working. Attorney 1 later referred Plaintiffs’ case to Defendant Attorneys. Defendant Attorneys also were retained by Plaintiff Wife in her action for loss of consortium. The suits were dismissed for improper service. Plaintiffs brought a malpractice suit.
Issue: Was the Plaintiffs’ malpractice suit for the loss of the wife’s consortium action prohibited because the cause of action only applied to the loss of a wife’s consortium when Plaintiff Husband was injured?
Ruling: In reversing the lower court’s dismissal of the lost consortium claim, the court held that the wife’s consortium claim was valid, based on the following considerations:
1) In Pennsylvania, court decisions changing the law are to be applied retroactively unless the court holds that it’s not to be applied retroactively.
2) Since the Plaintiffs had already filed an action when the law was changed, Plaintiffs were entitled to rely on the change of the law.
3) Since the Plaintiffs’ claims were pending when the change of law happened, they could rely on the new law.
4) Defendants additionally filed for the loss of consortium claim for the Plaintiffs after the change in the law. The court inferred from this that Defendants believed that the change was applicable to the Plaintiffs. The court held that after filing the claim, the Defendants can not claim that they had no duty to not file it negligently.
Lesson: Attorneys are responsible for complying with changes in the law that effect the standards of care that occur while cases they are representing clients in are pending. Attorneys especially can not claim that they did not believe that the change in law applied to a case they were representing a client when they made a claim based on that change of law.