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PA: Lawyer Liability for Judicial Error. A Glimpse back in time…

Stephens v. Downey, 53 Pa. 424 (1866)

PA: Underlying  Estate Action.

Student Contributor: Colleen Gaedcke

Facts: The court clerk entered a judgment on February 18, 1854 in an estate action that became a lien when the final judgment was entered on the February 28, 1854. The defendant’s attorney, filed a challenge to the final judgment however the writ was not entered into the docket on time.

Issue: Whether an attorney can be held liable for the negligence of a prothonotary (court clerk) for failing to timely enter a lien in the docket?

Ruling: No.

1) It is the prothonotary’s statutory duty to entering a lien on the docket.
2) A client cannot hold her attorney liable for “…the error of an officer of the tribunal in which the judgment was obtained, and whose positive duty it was to have entered it on the judgment docket."

Where it is the duty of the prothonotary to enter the final judgment in a suit on the judgment docket and he neglects to do so, the attorney who has charge of the claim is not liable for damages resulting from the loss of the lien.

Lesson: An attorney will not be liable for the negligence of court officers.

Editor’s Note: But what if the attorney played any role in the court officer’s error? For example, would the attorney’s lack of diligence, which is a departure from the standard of care, be considered a "substantial factor" in the untimely entry of the judgment, which may have caused actual damage to the client?

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Posted in: Pennsylvania