If your attorney committed serious errors, legal malpractice may have tainted your Florida personal injury lawsuit. You are entitled to full compensation if you suffered harm due to your attorney’s negligence.
If you are confident in your claim, you can decide whether to file a lawsuit or try to reach a private settlement. Additionally, you can report the lawyer to the Florida Bar for professional misconduct.
Definition of Legal Malpractice
Just as you can sue a doctor for medical malpractice, you can sue a lawyer for legal malpractice. Nevertheless, since no lawyer can honestly guarantee victory in your case, losing your case doesn’t establish legal malpractice. After all, just about every case has a winner and a loser.
Instead, you must demonstrate how your attorney’s handling of your case fell short of their professional standard of care. Not every mistake a lawyer makes qualifies as malpractice. The error must be weighty enough to qualify as professional negligence.
This threshold is somewhat ambiguous since no legal standards precisely define what counts as malpractice and what doesn’t. There are some general guidelines, however.
The Components of a Legal Malpractice Claim
Legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer fails to provide their client with the standard of representation that is required of them, resulting in harm to the client.
To succeed in a legal malpractice claim, you must prove that the following four elements are present in your case:
- Duty of care: You and the lawyer established an attorney-client relationship. This obligation arises as soon as the attorney agrees to represent you.
- Breach of duty: Either through an act or omission, your attorney failed to provide you with competent representation. They may have failed to communicate with you, failed to meet deadlines, or improperly handled your case in some other manner.
- Causation: You must be able to show that your lawyer’s carelessness (or other misconduct) resulted in financial or other losses for you.
- Damages: You must have suffered losses as a result of your lawyer’s carelessness. This could mean financial losses, emotional pain, or other kinds of harm.
If you believe you may have a legal malpractice claim, you should speak with a lawyer experienced in the particular practice area of law pertaining to the underlying case. That way, you understand more about your chances of winning a claim. You may also consider speaking with a professional misconduct lawyer regarding your case.
Examples of Attorney Conduct That Might Constitute Legal Malpractice
Examples of legal negligence in Florida personal injury cases might include the following:
- Not doing enough research to back up your claim
- Not meeting deadlines or statutes of limitations
- Submitting incorrect documentation
- Offering you insufficient legal guidance or failing to inform you of critical legal options
- Neglecting to communicate with you in a productive manner
- Accepting a settlement offer without talking to you first
If you believe you were the victim of legal malpractice in a Florida personal injury case, talk to another attorney as soon as you can.
Examples of Attorney Misconduct That Might Not Constitute Legal Malpractice
Below are some instances of unprofessional and disrespectful behavior by personal injury attorneys that might not constitute legal malpractice:
- Being impolite or disrespectful to customers, rival attorneys, or the court
- Not promptly responding to emails or calls
- Failing to update clients on their case’s status
- Failing to obtain essential information
- Not properly preparing for a hearing or trial
Even though these actions are unprofessional, they probably do not rise to the level of legal malpractice until they cause you to lose your case or reduce your damages. The severity of the lawyer’s offense has a significant impact on any determination of legal malpractice.
If your lawyer fails to return a single phone call, for example, it might not be a big deal depending on the circumstances. By contrast, persistent failure can amount to professional negligence.
Informing the Florida Bar Association of Attorney Misconduct
If you didn’t actually suffer harm as a result of your lawyer’s mistake or conduct, your legal malpractice claim won’t be successful. Nevertheless, you can still seek justice by reporting your attorney to the Florida Bar. The Florida Bar will investigate your complaint and may take action against the lawyer.
Using this method might give you a sense of contentment and perhaps even lead to compensation by the Florida Bar. It might also serve as a warning to your lawyer. If your lawyer is more careful in the future, this enhanced degree of care could enhance the well-being of their future clients.
Penalties for Misconduct
A practitioner who commits unethical or unlawful conduct, such as legal malpractice, may face censure by the Florida Bar. A private reprimand, a public reprimand, suspension from practicing law, or a permanent ban from the practice of law are all examples of disciplinary measures.
The Florida Bar will examine several factors to decide whether to penalize a lawyer who commits legal malpractice.
These components include:
- The seriousness of the offense: More severe disciplinary measures apply to more significant misbehavior, such as fraud or embezzlement.
- The magnitude of the damages you suffered: If the legal malpractice seriously harmed you, the Florida Bar will probably add to the sanctions against your lawyer.
- Your attorney’s professional history: If the Florida Bar (or any other state bar) has previously disciplined the lawyer, they might face more serious sanctions.
The Florida Bar might offer you monetary compensation from the Florida Bar Clients’ Security Fund, which pays out millions of dollars per year. Don’t count on it, but it is a possibility.
Settlement Negotiations in a Legal Malpractice Claim
Negotiating settlements for legal malpractice can be difficult, especially if you are not familiar with the legal system or the potential damages you could obtain.
Here are some general actions you can take to prepare for settlement negotiations:
- Calculate your losses
- Appoint a new attorney to represent you
- Collect evidence such as copies of all relevant court documents, correspondence, and other items that may be relevant to your case
- Send a demand letter – include a clear justification of the damages you are seeking, together with any supporting documentation
- Negotiate your claim – Prepare to bargain and make a strong effort to reach a just and reasonable compromise. If you are unable to reach a settlement, you may need to consider filing a lawsuit for damages.
Every legal malpractice case is different. The specific steps you’ll need to take to negotiate a settlement will depend on the facts surrounding your case.
Retain New Legal Representation for Help With a Legal Malpractice Claim
Legal malpractice claims are difficult to win, even with a lawyer. Consequently, your chances of winning will be almost non-existent if you decide to go it alone. Make an appointment with a lawyer with a strong track record of protecting clients victimized by legal misconduct. Be persistent since getting a lawyer to take a case against a fellow lawyer can be challenging.