WV: Underlying real estate conveyance (mineral rights)
Facts: Keister retained Webster County attorney, William Talbott, to examine title to two tracts of land, specifically the ownership of the surface and coal and mining rights. Talbot drafted a general warranty deed on June 24, 2986, wherein Mrs. Brown conveyed the two tracts of land, including the coal, oil, gas and minerals, along with the mining rights. Talbott later discovered that a third party claimed mining rights to the coal underlying the property, further discovered that the rights were in fact conveyed in 1946 by the prior owners and notified the Keisters of this fact. Thereafter, in November 1986, the Keisters filed suit against Talbott, as well as Charles Herold, Webster County Clerk for negligence resulting in the deprivation of ownership of the coal underlying the property. The Talbotts sought compensatory damages of $10,000,000.00. The trial court excluded evidence offered by the Keisters regarding the value of the coal under the land and the jury assessed damages in the amount of $0.
Issue: Was Talbott’s negligence a proximate cause of the damages incurred by the Keisters?
Ruling: No. Talbott’s negligence did not cause the loss of mineral rights.
Lesson: In an action for legal malpractice, against an attorney who has overlooked a conveyance of property which leads to the plaintiff receiving less than he contracted to purchase, damages are typically calculated by subtracting the value of the property actually received from the purchase price paid.