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Under Georgia law, a party bringing a legal malpractice claim must prove the following: (1) the party employed the defendant’s attorney; (2) the attorney failed to exercise ordinary care, skill, and diligence; and (3) that failure proximately caused damages to the client. OTS, Inc. et al v. Weinstock & Scavo P.C. et al., 339 Ga.App 511, 516 (2016). If a plaintiff is unable to show all three elements their claim will be unsuccessful. To determine if you have a case, reach out to an Atlanta legal malpractice lawyer at Tobin Injury Law for a free consultation.
The Attorney-Client Relationship
The attorney-client relationship is usually proven by the existence of a written agreement showing the client hired the attorney for legal representation. The written agreement can take several forms including an engagement letter, a simple contract, or another document containing the terms of representation.
The attorney-client relationship can also be proven through the actions of the parties. If the lawyer implies to the client that they represent them for a particular issue, and the plaintiff can show they reasonably believed the lawyer was representing them, then a claim for legal malpractice may be available.
Failure of the Attorney to Exercise Ordinary Care, Skill, and Diligence
To recover against an attorney for professional malpractice, the plaintiff must show the attorney did not follow the appropriate standard of care, sometimes referred to as Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The Supreme Court of Georgia described the standard of care as follows: “An attorney’s duty is to use such skill, prudence, and diligence as lawyers of ordinary skill and capacity commonly possess and exercise in the performance of tasks which they undertake…. An attorney is not bound to extraordinary diligence. He is bound to reasonable skill and diligence, and the skill has reference to the character of the business he undertakes to do….” Kellos v. Sawilowsky, 254 Ga. 4, 5 (1985).
The standard of care is the degree of skill, care, and diligence ordinarily possessed and exercised by other lawyers in a similar position. When a lawyer fails to act in a matter that would be considered generally acceptable in the legal profession, the lawyer has breached the standard of care.
O.C.G.A § 9-11-9.1 requires a plaintiff to file an affidavit from an expert when they file their lawsuit. The expert is an individual, usually an attorney, who is qualified to testify about the negligent conduct of the attorney being sued. The expert affidavit must describe at least one negligent act and state the facts the expert is using to support their opinion. Legal malpractice experts will also explain to the jury the standard of care and whether the mistake that damaged the client was outside of that standard of care.
Causation and Damages
A plaintiff must be able to show that their loss was the result of the lawyer’s action or inaction. If a plaintiff cannot show this, then the defendant will not be held liable for legal malpractice. If a lawyer makes a judgment call that turns out to be a mistake, then that will not necessarily support a legal malpractice claim. However, if a lawyer mismanaged a case in a substantive way, or violated the ethical rules of professional conduct, then the plaintiff may have a legal malpractice claim. The plaintiff typically must be able to prove that the attorney’s mistake caused the plaintiff financial harm in some way.
The likelihood of success in the underlying action is an important component of any legal malpractice claim. The plaintiff must be able to show that, but for the lawyer’s actions or inactions, they would have been awarded damages. A plaintiff may also be reimbursed any attorney’s fees paid to the lawyer in a successful legal malpractice claim. This is where it is extremely important to have experienced legal guidance from a skilled Atlanta legal malpractice lawyer. At Tobin Injury Law, our team, led by Darren Tobin, has the knowledge and integrity to successfully advocate for individuals who find themselves the victim of such breaches of professional conduct. Reach out as soon as possible because there are strict time limitations that govern malpractice cases. If your statute of limitations expires, no matter how egregious the malpractice, you will not be able to bring a claim.
Contact An Atlanta Legal Malpractice Lawyer at Tobin Injury Law Today
The legal malpractice cases that our law firm can help with personal injury malpractice cases and business malpractice cases. These legal matters can be complicated and difficult to navigate. You don’t have to do this alone. Our professional team is standing by to help you. Call us at 404-JUSTICE (404-587-8423) or fill out our convenient online contact form.