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PA: Negligence, She Wrote…(but couldn't prove)

Brock v. Owens, 532 A2d 1168 ( PA. 1987).

PA: Underlying employment discrimination case

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: Brock (client) was a professor at Lincoln University. She believed she was the victim of race and gender discrimination, so she hired a lawyer. She first hired Kalemjian, but he withdrew from the case. Next, the client hired Wusinich. She replaced Wusinich with Owens. The client sued all three of the lawyers for legal malpractice after the court dismissed her case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The client represented herself in the lawsuit against the lawyers, and asserted that all three handled her case negligently. At a jury trial, the lawyers filed a motion for non-suit. The motion was granted and the client now appeals.

Issue: Did the trial court properly grant the motion for non-suit in favor of the lawyers?

Ruling: Yes. To avoid non-suit in the case, the client had to show (1) the employment of the lawyers as a basis for their duty to her, (2) the lawyer’s failure to exercise ordinary skill and knowledge in handling the case, and (3) that the lawyer’s failure to handle the case diligently was a cause of the damage to the client. Here, the client presented no evidence to show that the lawyers failed to exercise ordinary skill or knowledge in handling the case, or that she would likely have prevailed in her suit against Lincoln, or that the lawyers handling of her case was a proximate cause of her failure to win the lawsuit against Lincoln. Thus, the client did not meet the requirements to establish her malpractice claim.

Lesson: The client here failed to prove malpractice because she did not show that the lawyers handled her case with less than the requisite ordinary skill and care or that their handling of the case was a proximate cause of her failed claim against Lincoln. She also did not present any evidence to show that it is more likely than not that she would have won her underlying lawsuit if not for the lawyers’ negligence. If the client does not present any evidence that the lawyers failed to exercise ordinary skill and knowledge or evidence that she would likely have won her case against Lincoln University, the client cannot prevail in the legal malpractice claim.

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Posted in: Case Within a Case, Labor & Employent, Pennsylvania, Proximate Cause