Category Archives: Business Litigation and Legal Malpractice
Usually attorneys know their clients and their clients know their attorneys. But not always.
In a recent New Jersey appellate court decision (Greening v. Levine), the appellate court grappled with the issue of whether a lawyer who represented a condominium association in claims made by a construction company also represented the individual unit owners. One unit owner claims the lawyer provided her with legal advice on a number of issues regarding her obligations to the construction company, and that the lawyer gave some bad advice that caused her damage. The unit owner sued the lawyer for legal malpractice.
The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the lawyer only represented the condominium association and not the individual unit owner. However, the appellate court reversed that decision finding that there were facts in dispute regarding who the lawyer represented. The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court so a jury could decide whether the lawyer represented the unit owner and whether the lawyer committed malpractice.
The lesson to be learned here is that if you are a client or think you are a client, make it clear and in writing. Send the lawyer an email or write a letter and state that you are proceeding on the basis that the lawyer is providing you with legal representation. If you are a lawyer and believe that a non-client may have the notion that you represent that person, send an email or letter that clearly states that you are not that person’s lawyer and that the person should seek advice from a different lawyer of his or her own choosing.
Even though your case did not turn out the way you hoped, most of the time, it is not your lawyer’s fault.
But sometimes it is.
In New Jersey, an attorney will be liable to a former client if the attorney fails to meet the “standard of care” and as a result, the client is damaged.
In performing legal services, an attorney must exercise the care, skill, and diligence that are commonly exercised by other attorneys representing clients in similar matters. If the attorney does so, the attorney meets the standard of care.
The attorney most often fails to meet the standard of care in dealing with the technical or procedural components involved in the services being rendered to the client.
Technical and procedural components include such things as recording documents, providing notice, drafting deeds and mortgages, filing a lawsuit within the filing-deadline set by a statute, drafting wills and other estate documents that accurately reflect the client’s intention, obtaining expert witness reports on the pertinent issues of the case being litigated, following a client’s instructions regarding a transaction or a lawsuit, providing tax advice to a client involved in a transaction or an estate administration, meeting all the requirements of proceeding with a lawsuit, informing a client of a settlement offer or other pertinent information needed for the client to make a decision as to how to proceed, advising a client of potential adverse consequences of a client’s decision and other similar events.
Take a look at our blog article titled “Real Life Legal Malpractice Cases,” for more detailed examples of cases.
One of the key elements of a legal malpractice case is that the person suing the lawyer must prove there is “an attorney-client relationship.” This means that the person and the lawyer agreed that the lawyer would provide legal services to the person.
Sometimes, however, a person is harmed by a lawyer’s actions or inactions, but the person is not a client of the lawyer. Courts have ruled that where an attorney provides information or takes on a responsibility that the attorney knows is not just for the client, but is also relied upon by other people, those other people can sue the lawyer if the information turns out to be unreliable or if the attorney fails to fulfill the responsibility undertaken.
Courts have ruled that an attorney who provided inaccurate information in a bid package could be held liable to a contractor who relied on that information and suffered harm because the information was inaccurate. Courts have also ruled that where a lawyer represents a person selling property and agrees to record the deed from the client (seller) to the buyer, and then fails to record the deed, the lawyer could be responsible for damages caused to the buyer even though the buyer was not the lawyer’s client.
Look for other blog posts on the topics of Discovery, Expert Witnesses, Mediation, Non-Binding Arbitration and the Trial.
This article is intended as general information and not as legal advice. If you are considering starting a lawsuit, contact an attorney at Maselli Warren, P.C. to schedule a consultation.
Imagine that you or your business runs into a legal problem. You don’t think you understand enough about the issue to tackle it on your own, so you make the prudent decision to enlist someone who does: you call an attorney. You willingly give this attorney your time, your money, and your sensitive personal and financial information, because you rightfully trust that he or she is a qualified professional who will treat you and your case with competence and care. But soon, things start to go wrong. Return calls are few and far between, until your calls stop being returned altogether. Documents are lost. Deadlines are missed. You take a huge financial loss, and struggle to patch up the pieces left behind. Was it legal malpractice?
In April 2014 the Working Group on Business Litigation, formed in the fall of 2013 by New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, issued its report and recommendations on the needs of business litigants. This process is a continuation of the steps the Judiciary has taken to improve New Jersey’s business friendliness. Previous steps have included:
- The creation of the General Equity part in the Chancery Division.
- A 1996 Bergen and Essex vicinage commercial pilot program where a judge with a business background is given discretion to handle complex commercial cases from start to resolution.
- The 2000 Best Practices 4-track case management system.
- The 2003 adoption of Rule 4:38A addressing Multicounty Litigation.
- A 2004 pilot program permitting a party to complex commercial litigation to request a General Equity designation in lieu of one in the Law Division, Civil Part.
We’ve written about Detroit’s bankruptcy on our blog in the past. Back in December of 2013, Judge Steven Rhodes catapulted the Motor City into national headlines when he announced he would allow Detroit to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The announcement of the biggest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history stunned the press and public alike, and left Detroiters with a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, the move inspired hope that a fresh start and a chance to heal would be attainable at last — but on the other, it also led to widespread anxiety regarding the thousands of pensions hanging precariously in the balance. Since then, four tumultuous months have passed. Is Detroit’s bankruptcy making progress?
Major lawsuits are always popular news fodder, and when big businesses lock horns, the media frenzy escalates to an even higher degree of intensity. When a large and well-known company finds itself confronted by another company’s claims, the fate of popular and long-standing business empires — and millions or even billions of dollars — hangs in the balance. In this entry, we’ve compiled five big business battles.
Planted firmly at the corner of 10th and Federal St. in the Bella Vista neighborhood of South Philadelphia, Chickie’s has been loading up hoagies for peckish customers since 1993. Now, after nearly twenty years, Chickie’s is available for purchase. But while Chickie’s may be a tempting piece of commercial real estate, the buyer may want to consider enforcing a non-compete agreement with its seller before moving in.
It sounds like something that could have come out of Hollywood. After years of legal maneuvering, a prominent, accomplished attorney promises a client a whopping six-figure settlement. Facing unrelated disciplinary actions from another case, that same attorney takes his own life. When his former client tries to collect her check, she discovers no such lawsuit was ever filed — and moves against his mourning estate for millions of dollars in damages.
It’s a strange, sad story which demonstrates that even the best and most highly-regarded attorneys sometimes become tangled in malpractice. John Fahy was well-known, well-respected, and successful. What happened toward the end of his life? Friends and family still struggle to find answers — even as they struggle against a massive malpractice lawsuit that has opinions sharply divided.
As a business owner or operator, you know that things do not always go according to plan or what was agreed upon. Perhaps you will be sold a defective product, fail to receive what you paid for, or suffer damages due to the defective design or manufacturing of a product that is not your own. Your first instinct in any of these cases might be to file suit in order to get back what you lost or at least receive some compensation for your damages. However, each lawsuit is different and it’s important to consult with an experienced commercial litigation attorney prior to deciding on a course of action. There are several factors you should consider and discuss with an attorney prior to filing suit against another company. Continue reading