Lawyers, like all professionals, owe their clients a duty of care. However, when lawyers make mistakes, they can cost their clients large sums of money[…]
Can You Sue Your Attorney?
Lawyers have a duty to represent their clients in a competent manner and to provide competent representation.
Much too often, however, lawyers fail their clients. Lawyers make serious mistakes or behave negligently, and their errors result in substantial harm to their clients.
If you hired an attorney who failed to represent your interests or who made a serious mistake in your case, you may be able to file a legal malpractice claim. You should speak with a West Hartford legal malpractice lawyer as soon as possible about filing a lawsuit.
Bruce Explains Legal Malpractice in a Minute
At Stanger Stanfield Law, our Connecticut legal malpractice attorneys represent clients across the state of Connecticut who are victims of legal malpractice. We have more than 60 years of combined experience handling legal and professional malpractice claims. Additionally, attorney Bruce Stanger is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility Committee.
What is a Legal Malpractice Claim?
What is legal malpractice?
Legal malpractice describes a case when a lawyer fails to provide adequate representation due to a mistake or negligence. Accordingly, the lawyer’s errors or careless behavior results in damages that harm the client.
You may have heard about medical malpractice. Due to a healthcare provider’s negligence or serious error, a patient sustains injuries. This allows the patient to sue the provider for medical malpractice.
In other words, the doctor failed to live up to the medical standard of care she or he owed a patient, and the patient got hurt as a result.
Legal malpractice is similar in that it allows a client to sue a lawyer when that lawyer fails to live up to the standard of care owed to a client in a legal case. When the client suffers harm—meaning a financial injury or loss, usually—then that client may be able to file a legal malpractice lawsuit.
According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, malpractice is typically defined as:
“The failure of one rendering professional services to exercise that degree of skill and learning commonly applied under all the circumstances in the community by the average prudent reputable member of the professions with the result of injury, loss, or damage to the recipient of those services.”
Negligence and Mistakes Made By Lawyers in Connecticut
What are some examples of legal malpractice in Connecticut?
The following are some examples of negligence and mistakes made by attorneys that could result in successful legal malpractice lawsuits:
- Missing deadlines or failing to file case materials on time;
- Failing to appear for a hearing;
- Failing to communicate with the client;
- Procrastinating on a client’s case;
- Inadequately investigating a case;
- Committing a conflict of interest;
- Giving the client poor advice;
- Engaging in sexual misconduct;
- Committing fraud;
- Making a clerical error;
- Losing files or documents in a client’s case;
- Improperly delegating work in a client’s case to another employee or to someone outside the firm;
- Stealing money from the client or otherwise breaching a fiduciary duty;
- Negligently negotiating a contract or settlement agreement;
- Negligently drafting a contract or settlement agreement;
- Agreeing to a settlement offer without speaking to the client; and
- Failing to keep the client’s best interests in mind.
Lawyers owe a duty of care to their clients, and that duty of care means living up to a standard set by other lawyers in similar situations. Any conduct by a lawyer that deviates from the behavior that other lawyers would deem appropriate may be grounds for a legal malpractice lawsuit.
While losing a case in and of itself does not mean that a lawyer committed malpractice, there could be grounds for filing a malpractice claim if the lawyer was negligent or acted wrongfully.
Connecticut’s Rules of Professional Conduct and Legal Malpractices Cases in the States
There are laws in place that govern legal malpractice claims in Connecticut, as well as in other states.
The Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct govern the lawyer-client relationship when it comes to the ethics of representation and the attorney’s duty to his or her client.
These rules require a lawyer to:
- Represent a client competently;
- Be diligent in that representation;
- Avoid conflicts of interest; and
- To generally engage in professional conduct that is of a standard established by others in the profession.
The Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct specifically address malpractice liability, emphasizing that lawyers can be liable to clients “for the negligent rendering of services.”
However, it is important for clients who are considering filing a legal malpractice claim to keep in mind that a lawyer’s mere breach of the Rules does not necessarily give rise to a legal malpractice claim. To be clear, the lawyer’s negligence, or breach of the Rules, must harm the patient in some way.
Elements of a Connecticut Legal Malpractice Claim
What does a plaintiff in Connecticut need to prove in order to be successful in a legal malpractice claim?
To show legal malpractice liability, the plaintiff needs to prove all four of these elements:
- Client-Attorney relationship existed at the time of the alleged malpractice;
- Attorney committed a wrongful act or omission, or behaved in a manner that deviated from the standard of care owed to the client;
- Attorney’s wrongful act or omission was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s harm; and
- Plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the attorney’s wrongful act or omission.
The first element of a legal malpractice claim is usually relatively easy to prove. As long as the plaintiff hired the lawyer, then there should be evidence that there was an attorney-client relationship.
Proving that an attorney committed a wrongful act or omission (meaning that the lawyer made a mistake or failed to act when she or he should have), as well as proving that the attorney’s error or omission was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s harm, requires more evidence.
Your legal malpractice lawyer can help to build the strongest legal malpractice case.
Clear and Convincing Evidence Standard in a Legal Malpractice Lawsuit
Different types of legal claims have different standards of evidence. In civil cases (those that are not criminal cases), there are generally two different evidentiary standards:
- A preponderance of the evidence, which is the lesser evidentiary standard and simply requires that the evidence shows that the key event in the case was more likely than not to have happened; or
- Clear and convincing evidence, which is the greater evidentiary standard and requires a higher burden of proof, or a showing that the key event in the case was substantially more likely than not to have happened.
The evidentiary standard for a legal malpractice claim in Connecticut is clear and convincing evidence. As such, the plaintiff needs to show by clear and convincing evidence that the lawyer committed legal malpractice and is liable for damages.
It is extremely important to have an experienced Connecticut legal malpractice lawyer on your side to help prove your case.
Damages for Harm in a Connecticut Legal Malpractice Case
If your lawyer is negligent or behaves wrongfully, what kinds of damages can you expect to receive if you file a lawsuit?
In general, the following damages may be available to plaintiffs who file a successful Connecticut legal malpractice claim:
- Compensatory damages: This type of damages award compensates a plaintiff for their losses. There are two different types of compensatory damages, including economic damages (direct, financial losses) and non-economic damages (non-financial, subjective losses such as emotional distress).
- Punitive damages: This type of damages award punishes a defendant for particularly harmful or egregious behavior, and often to discourage similar behavior in the future.
Plaintiffs in legal malpractice cases also are eligible to receive legal fees, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.
The Statute of Limitations for Filing a Legal Malpractice Claim in Connecticut
Similar to other types of lawsuits, Connecticut legal malpractice claims have what is known as a “statute of limitations.” This is the time window that a plaintiff has from the date of the incident or her injury to file a claim for compensation.
In Connecticut, the statute of limitations for a legal malpractice claim is three (3) years. This means that a legal malpractice lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date that the claim arose. The Connecticut Supreme Court recently heard a case concerning the legal malpractice statute of limitations and emphasized that the three-year time window is a strict one for these types of cases.
If you do not file your legal malpractice claim within three years, you can be barred from seeking compensation through a lawsuit.
Contact A Connecticut Legal Malpractice Lawyer to Learn More About Filing Your Claim
We have focused our practice on helping those who have been harmed by attorney misconduct. Let us help you. We can answer your questions, help you determine if you have a legal malpractice claim, and advise you on your options.
Contact us today to start seeking justice.