Legal Malpractice: The “Case within a Case” Doctrine and How It Works

Published on Apr 9, 2020 at 5:43 pm in Legal Malpractice.

Statue of justice holding a sword and set of scales

If there comes a time in your life where you need to file a lawsuit for injuries or losses, you’ll want to be supported by an experienced and resourceful lawyer. Unfortunately, there are legal representatives out there that do not provide the representation their clients deserve and, as a result, the client is harmed financially. In some situations, this may be considered legal malpractice. While these cases are among the most challenging to prove, they are not unwinnable. If you think you’ve been wronged by a lawyer, it’s important to understand legal malpractice and how the “case within a case” doctrine works.

Examples of Legal Malpractice

Proving legal malpractice is often challenging because not every bad job is considered malpractice. Some common examples of legal malpractice include the following:

  • Your case is dismissed because your lawyer did no work. This is a challenging claim to prove, as you’ll need to show that your case would have been successful if your lawyer had not mishandled your case.
  • Your lawyer misused your retainer funds. If you suspect your lawyer misused your money, submit a complaint to the state’s attorney regulatory agency. Stealing a client’s money is malpractice in all situations, so it’s likely you’ll receive a prompt response. In most cases, you’ll be reimbursed for what was stolen.
  • Your attorney settles without your approval. Attorneys are not allowed to agree to a settlement without their client’s approval. With this type of claim, you’ll need to prove that the settlement your lawyer agreed to was less than the value of your case.
  • Your lawyer stops working on your case. The longer a lawyer ignores a case they’ve accepted, the more likely it is that malpractice is occurring. If you believe your case is not being handled by the legal representative you hired, you can look into hiring a new lawyer.
  • Your lawyer recommends settling for far less than what your case was originally valued at. While this is not inherently malpractice, it could be considered so if you can prove your lawyer inflated your settlement estimate to encourage you to hire them. To prove that, it’s best to get a second opinion on the value of your case.
  • Your lawyer discusses your case with the opposing attorney. While there is nothing ethically wrong with opposing attorneys socializing, a breach of ethics is possible if your lawyer discusses your case with the defendant’s attorney. If they reveal something you said in confidence, they breached their duty to you and could hurt your case.

Understanding the Case-within-a-Case Doctrine

Legal malpractice cases are essentially two cases in one. You need to be able to prove that your attorney exhibited negligence while handling your case and that you would have received a more favorable outcome, settlement, or judgment if they had not. Your new lawyer will need to review and build a claim for your original case in addition to building a legal malpractice claim to prove the difference in the outcome.

Proving both claims simultaneously is challenging and it’s not uncommon for courts to regularly dismiss legal malpractice claims if there’s insufficient proof that the underlying case would have been successful.

Steps to Proving Legal Malpractice

As with any personal injury case, there are four primary elements you need to prove for a successful outcome: duty, breach, causation, and damages. In a legal malpractice situation, duty refers to the idea that the attorney owed you a duty to act properly. Breach is proving how the attorney was negligent. Causation refers to how their conduct hurt you financially. And damages are what you suffered as a result of the misconduct.

Overall, you need to prove your attorney made an error in the way they handled your case. That error needs to have directly contributed to you losing a case that would have otherwise been winnable or receiving a less-than-favorable settlement/verdict. A reputable lawyer from Belsky & Horowitz, LLC can help you prove that if you had won the case, you would have been eligible for a monetary award.

Legal Representation in Baltimore, Maryland

Learning your attorney mishandled your case can be devastating. Filing a claim is a stressful process, especially if you’re dealing with recovering from injuries. If preventable errors were made with your case and a different outcome could have been achieved, you may have grounds to file a legal malpractice claim. If you have questions about the litigation process or would like our lawyers to review your situation and give you our legal option, contact our law firm today. We represent those in Baltimore and the surrounding Maryland areas.



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