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The Case Within a Case: An Overview of Legal Malpractice

Like other professionals, lawyers are held to high standards and expected to do their jobs thoroughly, ethically, and work with the client’s best interest in mind. If an attorney fails in their duty to provide this level of service and the client suffers financial losses, there’s a chance the lawyer could be found liable for legal malpractice.

Not every mistake made by a lawyer constitutes legal malpractice. In order for there to be a viable case, you must be able to prove that:

  • A duty existed. You must show that you willingly entered into an agreement with the attorney for their services.
  • A breach happened. You must have evidence that the attorney breached the above contract or failed to perform duties that were vital to the outcome of the case.
  • Causation existed. The breach of duty must have directly caused or contributed to loss for you.
  • There were damages. Damages are the losses mentioned above. In legal malpractice, these are generally financial losses from either losing a case or not trying it for enough.

Legal malpractice cases are tricky because one is essentially litigating a case within a case: the legal malpractice case itself and the underlying matter.

One example of this is a famous record-setting case tried by James Bostwick in San Francisco, California. The firm handled an underlying medical malpractice case for a 32-year-old C-6 quadriplegic who had been paralyzed in an automobile accident at age 16. At the time of the accident, an attorney settled the case for a mere $250,000 — not nearly enough to assist the victim with the ongoing medical expenses associated with his condition. Bostwick argued that the original attorney had missed other opportunities to claim damages.

The case went to trial, which involved proving medical malpractice against multiple doctors and one hospital, as well as legal malpractice against the original attorney. The jury verdict was $6.4 million with pre-judgment interest and costs, which was a legal malpractice verdict record at the time. This case was the inspiration for James Bostwick’s legal drama, Acts of Omission.

As illustrated above, legal malpractice is a complex area of personal injury litigation. Its many nuances are best managed in the hands of an experienced attorney that is willing to fight for your best interests. Contact Bostwick & Peterson today by filling out an online form or calling 888-831-8448 to discuss your case free of charge.