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PA: Proximate Cause = Case Within a Case

Williams v. Bashman, 457 F. Supp. 322 (E.D. Pa. 1978)

 PA: Underlying  tort action.

Student Contributor: Colleen Gaedcke

Facts: The plaintiff retained the defendant, a partner at the defendant law firm, to represent her in her personal injury case against the a homeowner and the city of Philadelphia. A year passed without any communication between the plaintiff and the defendant, until the plaintiff sent the defendant a letter inquiring about the status of her case. The plaintiff received a letter from another attorney at the defendant law firm stating that he was representing her in her case against the City. Plaintiff did have one conversation with the defendant partner where he assured her that the case was in court. Another year passed and the defendant partner left the defendant law firm. The defendant law firm never filed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff claimed that the “defendant firm failed to exercise within the scope of their employment reasonable professional care and diligence in their representation of the plaintiff.” As a result of this failure the plaintiff claims that she was unable to recover compensation for her injuries and that her claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

Issue: Whether the plaintiff defendant law firm was liable for legal malpractice?

Ruling:  Yes.

1.) “When a plaintiff alleges that the defendant lawyer negligently provided services to him or her as a plaintiff in the underlying action, he or she must establish by the preponderance of the evidence that he or she would have recovered a judgment in the underlying action in order to be awarded damages in the malpractice action, which are measured by the lost judgment.”

2.) Here, the court found that the defendant law firm was responsible for her case, including conducting discovery to determine the merits of her case and proving the elements if necessary at trial.

3.) The defendant law firm owed the plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable profession in the prosecution of her claim and they negligently breached that duty which was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s loss of damages.

Lesson: An attorney who signs a retainer agreement with a client has a duty to exercise reasonable care in representing that client. A breach of this duty may be the proximate cause of the client’s damages and thus the attorney will be liable for legal malpractice.

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Posted in: Case Within a Case, Pennsylvania, Proximate Cause, Torts/Personal Injury