Have you been the victim of legal malpractice in Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi or Arkansas? Just like physicians, accountants and many other types of licensed professionals, attorneys have an ethical obligation to act in the best interests of their client. There also are a series of rules of professional conduct in every state and territory in the United States that govern the conduct of attorneys in that jurisdiction. Violating these rules can expose the attorney to a potential legal malpractice claim by a client. It can also expose the attorney to potential sanctions like disbarment (loss of the lawyer’s license to practice law) or discipline such as temporary suspension for a certain period of time of the attorney’s ability to practice law in the jurisdiction. Legal malpractice can also give rise to civil liability for the attorney, including a lawsuit to recover any money that the client may have lost as a result of the attorney’s malpractice.
What Are Some Examples of Legal Malpractice?
One of the most common types of legal malpractice is a mistake by an attorney which negatively affect the client’s case. For instance, there are strict timelines called statutes of limitations that apply to virtually every type of legal claim. As an example, Florida has a two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims so the victim of medical malpractice has two years to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against the healthcare provider who injured him or her. Assuming the victim hired an attorney a year after the malpractice occurred but the attorney neglected to do anything on the case and failed to file a lawsuit until after the statute of limitations had passed, the victim might have a claim for legal malpractice against the attorney. Another common example of a legal malpractice scenario is the misuse or abuse of client funds. For example, say you have signed a contingency fee agreement with your attorney that the attorney will receive 20% of any total amount that is recovered in settlement of a personal injury lawsuit related to a motor vehicle accident in which you were injured. If the case settles at mediation but the attorney keeps 30% of the proceeds of a settlement reached between you and the insurance company that covered the other driver, then you would likely have a claim for legal malpractice against that attorney. A similar but related scenario would be if your fee agreement with an attorney provides that the attorney will not bill you for certain expenses or services but the attorney does so anyway.
How do I File a Legal Malpractice Lawsuit and What Are the Damages Available in a Legal Malpractice Case?
Like any other type of claim, legal malpractice claims are filed against the attorney who committed malpractice in regular civil court. In most jurisdictions, attorneys are required to carry malpractice insurance. Often you will deal with an insurance company in connection with a legal malpractice claim you file against an attorney. However, you may be entitled to recover monetary damages (also known as restitution) against the attorney if you succeed in proving your case at trial. The court can also order additional sanctions against the attorney, such as recommending that disciplinary charges be brought against the attorney by the state bar association or revoking the attorney’s ability to practice before that court.
What is the Difference between a Bar Grievance and a Legal Malpractice Claim?
A common misconception is that filing a bar grievance against an attorney is the same as filing a legal malpractice claim. A bar grievance is a process by which you can file a complaint against your attorney with the state or local bar association, which will then investigate your complaint and either recommend that further action be taken against the attorney based upon your complaint or that the complaint be dismissed. However, filing a bar grievance is different than filing a legal malpractice claim because a bar grievance will not entitle you to restitution for any financial losses you may have suffered as a result of an attorney’s conduct. If you have been harmed by a lawyer’s mistake in representing you, then you should consider not only filing a bar grievance but also pursue a legal malpractice claim as well.
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