Friday, February 17, 2017

More Than Unhappiness Needed To Establish Legal Malpractice

The Delaware Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of a legal malpractice claim involving the representation of the plaintiff in a personal injury action.

Appellant engaged Appellee to represent her in a personal injury lawsuit. Initially, Appellee, representing Appellant, made a demand on the defendant in that lawsuit for $20,000. The defendant in that action refused to pay the $20,000, and Appellee then filed a personal injury action alleging $20,000 in damages. The Appellant then engaged in mediation with the defendant in that lawsuit, represented by Appellee. The mediation resulted in Appellant accepting a settlement offer for less than the full $20,000 claimed. Appellant received and subsequently cashed the settlement check.

Unhappy with Appellee’s representation of her, Appellant filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”). In her complaint to the ODC, Appellant claimed that Appellee tricked her into signing the settlement agreement. The ODC reviewed the complaint and Appellee’s response to the complaint and determined that Appellee’s representation of Appellant did not fall below the acceptable level of representation.

Appellant then filed a legal malpractice action with the Court of Common Pleas. In that action, Appellant alleged that “[she] was promised to be fully compensated with all medical bills paid, . . . and was encouraged to sign paperwork of legal documentation without any clarity of what [she] was signing.”1 Appellee then filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 12(b)(6) on grounds that Appellant had not sufficiently made a claim for legal malpractice.

The Court of Common Pleas held argument on Appellee’s Motion to Dismiss on April 29, 2016. The Court of Common Pleas issued on oral ruling granting Appellee’s motion to dismiss.

The malpractice claim failed

It appears from the record that the trial court’s factual findings are the result of a logical and deductive reasoning process. The trial court found that Appellee put forth his best efforts in representing Appellant in her personal injury action. Appellant was able to obtain a settlement offer to which Appellant ultimately agreed. Although Appellant may now be unhappy with the settlement agreement into which she entered, that does not create a colorable claim for legal malpractice against the attorney who represented her. Additionally, it is noteworthy that the ODC, upon investigating Appellant’s claim of legal malpractice, found that Appellee committed no malpractice. Accordingly, as Appellant has failed to set forth any reason that Appellee neglected his professional obligation owed to her, her general claim that the trial court committed reversible error is without merit.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process, Clients | Permalink


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