The legal profession is rife with legal risks. A study by the American Bar Association found that malpractice claims against lawyers have risen significantly in recent years, according to a report by LexisNexis.
Here are five common reasons lawyers get sued along with real-life cases of lawyers who have encountered such lawsuits.
1. Claims of negligence
It’s not uncommon for clients to feel their lawyer was negligent or breached their contract or fiduciary duty—especially when they don’t win their case. Craig Robinson, a Philadelphia lawyer-turned-reality TV star, was recently sued for malpractice by ex-clients Luis and Migdalia Santiago, who alleged that Robinson “neglected and abandoned” them after he was cast as a contestant on The Bachelorette in 2010, according to LawyersAndSettlements.com. The Santiagos also sued Robinson’s former firm, Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, alleging that it assigned them a different lawyer who was ill-prepared to handle their personal injury case.
2. Breach of confidentiality
Maryland lawyer Larry J. Feldman was sued by the family of a client, Isiah Callaway, who was killed after family members allege that Feldman told a co-defendant on a rent-check fraud scheme case that federal authorities wanted to speak with Callaway. The co-defendant, Tavon Davis, had Callaway killed soon after Feldman disclosed that information to him, the lawsuit claims. Callaway’s family members sought more than $40 million in damages, according to The Baltimore Sun.
3. Administrative errors
Lost documents and paperwork, errors and other administrative problems are common reasons clients sue. Houston divorce attorney Guillermo De La Garza and his firm Bill De La Garza & Associates PC were sued in 2009 for $50,000 by former client Randal Mack Hall, who claimed that De La Garza poorly managed the paperwork, among several other claims, according to The Southeast Texas Record.
4. Missing filing deadlines
Calendaring errors account for a large portion of malpractice claims. Amye Hendricks of Lavallette, West Virginia sued her lawyer and his law firm for an undisclosed sum in 2011, alleging that he missed the deadline for filing her personal injury lawsuit. Hendricks alleged that her lawyer, Timothy L. Eves, filed her lawsuit two weeks after the two-year statute of limitations, according to The West Virginia Record. A judge had dismissed Hendricks personal injury lawsuit due to the missed deadline.
5. Professional misconduct
San Antonio lawyer and attorney general candidate Jamie Balagia—who calls himself “The DWI Dude”—was sued in May for professional misconduct by the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary unit. Balagia was accused of keeping $50,000 that was seized by law enforcement from his client Jill McKeown, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Lawyers and their practices can help minimize the potential financial damage and distress caused by legal risks associated with their professional work by securing the right protections. Common types of protection lawyers get include professional liability coverage, cyber liability and data loss coverage, and various kinds of errors and omissions insurance (E&O). Having such protections in place may help ease lawyers’ concerns that defense costs and damages stemming from a legal claim will be covered—allowing them to focus on their practice.