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What hurdles must a malpractice plaintiff clear at trial?

As noted in a recent legal-news publication, the plaintiff in a legal malpractice case "furnished lots of detail about what the lawyer supposedly did wrong."

In fact, that plaintiff -- West Bend Mutual Insurance Company -- presented to the court detailed information to back up its claim that a lawyer defending it in a workers' compensation case was clearly derelict in his duty to provide competent representation. West Bend offered evidence to show that the attorney was inadequately prepared, inexplicably revealed defense strategy to the plaintiff and admitted to West Bend's liability without consulting with the insurer.

Unquestionably, the court was impressed by the quality and weight of the evidence; the complaint, stated the above-cited article, "adequately described [the attorney's] duty and breach of duty."

Notwithstanding that breach, however, a federal appellate court (in a divided ruling) found the complaint to be deficient and dismissed it.

The stated reason why: Although it satisfied the prong of establishing a performance breach, it failed to satisfy the additional requirement of sufficiently connecting that deficient performance to actual injuries incurred by the plaintiff.

Put another way: Yes, counsel's performance was substandard, but insufficient proof was offered by West Bend to indicate that it injured the insurer and actually caused it detriment in the workers' comp matter.

West Bend provided "conclusory assertions,' stated the court, and that wasn't enough.

The case is certainly instructive for any would-be malpractice plaintiff, specifically for its emphasis on the need to connect deficient performance to causation, that is, a showing that absent a lawyer's substandard representation, a plaintiff would likely have prevailed in a legal contest.

Legal malpractice is obviously a complex and technical subset of the law. Any would-be plaintiff with questions or concerns regarding a malpractice matter might reasonably want to secure the timely assistance and candid counsel of a plaintiffs' malpractice attorney.

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