Attorney Liability for Misrepresentations and “Lies” (Part 2)
ATTORNEYS CAN BE HELD LIABLE FOR KNOWINGLY TELLING LIES.
If a lawyer makes an intentional and material misrepresentation of facts in the course of negotiations, parties who relied upon the attorney’s “lies” may be able to bring a claim against the lawyer for legal malpractice.
The elements of a claim against an attorney for material misrepresentations made in the course of negotiations include:
1 . An intentional or negligent misrepresentation of a material fact (by the attorney).
2 . The misrepresentation (lie) was made with the expectation that people hearing it would rely upon it as true.
3 . When making the statement, the attorney had no reasonable basis for believing the statement was true. (In other words: the lawyer knew (s)he was lying at the time the statement was made.)
Lawyers are not held liable for making false statements if the attorney had a good faith belief, at the time the statement was made, that the statement was true. This is because attorneys have to rely upon third-party sources for much of the information used when representing clients, and lawyers cannot always tell when a client (or expert witness, or other third party) tells a lie.
If the lawyer mistakenly relies on untrue information, but had no reason to believe the information was false, then the lawyer is not generally liable for malpractice if (s)he passes the statement on to others as truth.
OPINION LETTERS MUST NOT CONTAIN INTENTIONAL OR NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATIONS OF MATERIAL FACTS
An “opinion letter” is a formal statement of an attorney’s legal analysis and opinion surrounding a legal issue, case, or situation.
Not every letter a lawyer writes is an “opinion letter”–even if the letter contains a statement of the attorney’s judgment or an analysis of the law.
Opinion letters are often held to a high degree of professional conduct, and lawyers can be legally liable for writing opinion letters which contain intentional or negligent misrepresentations of material facts. This liability reaches beyond the client for whom the letter was written. Lawyers may also be held liable to third parties (non-clients) who were intended to receive and rely upon the opinions stated in the letter.
Determining whether a statement of fact is material, and whether it was intentionally or negligently made, may involve a complex legal analysis as well as analysis of the facts and circumstances of the case or controversy at issue. If you believe you have a case or claim against an attorney for fraud or misrepresentation, contact experienced legal counsel without delay.
Part 1 of Attorney Liability for Misrepresentations, which looked at when a lawyer can be held legally liable for “lies” to clients and non-clients, can be found here.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Legal claims against lawyers or other third parties are a complicated topic. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who failed to provide you with competent representation, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.