My Attorney Screwed Up My Case…What Are My Rights?
Ryan Zavodnick | June 19, 2020 | Personal Injury
Hiring an attorney to handle a personal injury claim or other legal matter can be a difficult decision. Many people interview several attorneys and research lawyers online before deciding which attorney to hire. They place their faith and trust in their attorney to protect their legal rights and best interests.
Unfortunately, attorneys may fall short of a client’s expectations. In some cases, clients have unrealistic expectations that are not based on realistic probabilities or the law. In other cases, attorneys make mistakes or they are negligent.
What are your rights if your attorney’s actions caused you harm? Can you sue an attorney for mishandling a car accident claim, criminal case, or other legal matter?
What is Legal Malpractice in Pennsylvania?
Just like a doctor, lawyers owe a high duty of care to their clients. If a lawyer’s behavior or actions cause the client harm, the lawyer may be liable for damages in a civil lawsuit.
Legal malpractice occurs when an attorney fails to provide legal services that meet a minimum standard of care for a licensed attorney. Attorneys may commit legal malpractice through errors or omissions. They may also commit malpractice through intentional acts.
In general, you must prove the following legal elements to win a malpractice case against your attorney:
1.- The Attorney Owed You a Duty of Care
When you retain an attorney, the attorney owes you a duty of care under the law. Proving that an attorney-client relationship existed generally satisfies this legal requirement. A copy of the retainer agreement or proof of payment of a retainer fee can be sufficient to establish a duty of care.
2.- Breach of the Duty of Care
The attorney committed errors, omissions, negligent acts, or wrongdoing in handling your case. Failing to perform contractual obligations is also considered a breach of duty.
3.- The Breach of Duty Caused Your Harm
You must prove that the breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the harm you sustained. For example, your attorney failed to monitor the statute of limitations for motorcycle accident lawsuits. By missing the deadline, you lost your right to file an injury claim.
4.- You Sustained Damages
As a result of the breach of duty, you sustained damages. In the case of a missed deadline, you cannot recover compensation for your damages and losses. Therefore, you sustained financial losses because of the attorney’s actions.
You have the burden of proving that the attorney committed legal malpractice. The evidence in the case must establish each of the above requirements.
For example, if your attorney lost your case, but you did not suffer any harm, you typically would not win a legal malpractice claim. Likewise, if you lost your case because you failed to tell your attorney the truth, the attorney would likely not be held liable for malpractice.
What Constitutes Legal Malpractice?
Not all actions constitute legal malpractice. Lawyers cannot guarantee the outcome of a legal matter or dispute. Losing a case does not mean that the attorney mishandled the case, was negligent, or committed errors.
Some common matters and situations that give rise to legal malpractice claims include, but are not limited to:
- Violating the Rules of Professional Conduct.
- Missing a deadline or a statute of limitations.
- Failing to provide adequate and effective communication with the client.
- Failing to disclose a conflict of interest.
- Mishandling or failing to safeguard a client’s money or property.
- Transactional errors in documents that cause the client harm or damages.
- Failing to investigate the facts and circumstances of the matter.
- Failing to conduct thorough and comprehensive legal research of applicable statutes and case law pertaining to the client’s case.
- Practicing under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Failure to perform services required by the retainer agreement.
- General incompetency that results in a failure to provide the standard of legal services required under the duty of care.
What Can I Do if My Lawyer Committed Malpractice?
You can file a lawsuit against your attorney seeking compensation for damages and losses. The damages you may receive in a legal malpractice lawsuit depend on the facts of your case.
You may be entitled to reimbursement for any financial losses caused by the malpractice. If your attorney’s actions caused you to lose your case, you may receive compensation that is comparable to what you would have received if not for your attorney’s negligence.
When an attorney’s negligence resulted in you being liable to another party, the court could order your attorney to reimburse you for the money you had to pay to the other party. Additionally, you can request reimbursement for the fees and costs of filing the legal malpractice lawsuit.
It is important to note that your time to file a legal malpractice lawsuit is limited. For legal malpractice based on negligence claims, the deadline to file is two years. The deadline to file malpractice based on breach of contract is four years.