Monday, November 19, 2007
The personal representative of a client who was defended in civil litigation by a law firm sued the firm for malpractice. The theory of the suit was that the lawyers "negligently pursued counterclaims and third-party claims that failed as a matter of law and failed to plead other claims that...were viable and would not have been dischargeable in [the opposing party's] bankruptcy." The trial court entered judgment in favor of the lawyers.
On appeal, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed in part the trial court's dispositive order. The court agreed that summary judgment on most of the claims was appropriate "because the fatal flaw...was the lack of an expert witness who would opine that the Lawyers breached the standard of care." However, the trial court "too narrowly construed or overlooked some of [plaintiff's] allegations regarding the Lawyers' failure to bring an alternative fraud-related claim or claims in the underlying litigation." The case was sent back to the trial court to permit discovery into this claim.The court rejected contentions that the trial court demonstrated partiality to the Lawyers or that the plaintiff was unduly prejudiced by her pro se status ("[plaintiff] has shown herself in her briefs and oral argument to be intelligent, articulate and sophisticated"). Mike Frisch)