It’s not uncommon for some lawyers to be exposed to professional liability. It becomes difficult when this happens to another person other than the client whom the lawyer was representing. Generally, an attorney is not liable for negligence to third parties when it comes to performing his/her duties. The lawyer only owes accountability to the client, but what about the family members of the client, such as in the case of wrongful deaths? What about the business partners of such a client? Can a third party who has been harmed by the actions or inactions of such a lawyer get justice?
Liability To Third Parties
When a lawyer assumes a fiduciary obligation, this may apply to people who may have relied on the lawyer’s services, and the lawyer had a reason to believe that these individuals relied on the obligation. A third party may be affected by the deed or words of a lawyer. Therefore, if a lawyer undertakes any duty to an individual other than the client, the lawyer may be liable for damages. These damages must have resulted from the breach of duty to that individual who was supposed to benefit from the lawyer’s performance. For instance, if a family member is represented by a lawyer in proceedings where children have an interest in the ruling, the court may deem that the kids are putative clients to this lawyer. This is if the lawyer doesn’t make it clear that he/she was not representing the children. Typically to prove legal malpractice, there must be three elements:
- There must be an attorney-client relationship
- A duty must be breached, and this resulted in harm
- And there must exist a proximate causation
If you have been involved in such a case and you’re wondering what to do, you can seek advice from the best malpractice lawyers in Memphis. They can guide you on the necessary steps you can take to ensure you recover from the losses.
What Is Used To Determine The Liability
The court uses three distinct tests to determine whether the attorney owed the non-client a duty of care.
- An intended recipient: This can also be referred to a direct beneficiary or rather a third-party beneficiary. The recipient has the right to put into effect the treaty once any right has been vested. In law, this kind of individual is justified if he/she relied on a promise. It becomes immaterial whether the promise was learned from a third party, a promisor, or even a promisee. In legal malpractice, the approach of the intended beneficiary is to show that he/she had a direct benefit from the services of the lawyer.
- Duty to foreseeability: This is a concept frequently used in personal injury law for determining the proximate cause of an accident. In legal malpractice, this test is to determine whether the lawyer would have reasonably foreseen the fallouts that would have stemmed from his/her conduct. For instance, the doctrine of foreseeability is also mostly used in product liability where a manufacturer is deemed responsible for overseeing situations where a specific product may be misused by the consumers and hence warn them.
- Multi-factor: This is granted after there is a successful presentation of the above two evidences.
In most jurisdictions, the court will hold a lawyer liable if the above is proven to exist. If he/she could reasonably foresee that his/her negligence behavior could have caused harm to the non-client, the lawyer will be held liable. For a non-client to prove that there was harm, he /she must have to prove that there would be damages recovered from the underlying action and that the outcome of the case would have been different were it not for the lawyer’s negligence. It’s, therefore the responsibility of the lawyer to understand what could lead to a potential third party liability. To determine if such a duty exists, the non-client has to prove that the lawyer’s services were to provide a direct benefit to them. However, this alone may also not be enough to hold the lawyer responsible, both the lawyer and the client must have intended the services to benefit the non-client.
Generally speaking, a third party may not recover from a legal malpractice case unless there was an underlying connection with the attorney. Again, the attorney must be aware of such incidence. If the firm or lawyer in question never indicated that they don’t represent non-clients, then you may have a reason to claim for damages. Meaning, if no disclaimer was used, a third party can have a potential claim against that lawyer. The lawyer should make it clear who he/she is representing. If you have any questions regarding being a real party in interest, don’t hesitate to contact a legal malpractice lawyer for the right information. They will have a free initial consultation that will help you determine whether you have a valid case.
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