Causation in Legal Malpractice Actions
In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a legal malpractice action, the plaintiff must prove:
1. The defendant attorney owed a legally-recognized duty to the plaintiff;
2. The attorney breached that duty (under circumstances that were not legally excused);
3. The attorney’s breach of duty damaged the plaintiff; and
4. The attorney’s breach of duty was the legally recognized cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
PLAINTIFFS MUST PROVE THE ATTORNEY’S ERROR WAS THE LEGAL CAUSE OF THE INJURY
To establish legally-recognized causation, the plaintiff must demonstrate either:
1. The attorney’s negligence was an actual, concurrent, independent cause of the plaintiff’s damages; or
2. “But for” the attorney’s negligence, the plaintiff would not have suffered the damages.
Normally, causation is considered an issue of fact, meaning the jury determines its existence after evaluating the relevant facts and circumstances. Causation is a fact-based issue, meaning that the facts of the case must either prove or disprove its existence.
Sometimes, when the evidence supporting a finding of causation (or proving that the attorney’s actions were not the cause of the plaintiff’s damages) is clear enough that reasonable people could reach only one conclusion on the issue, causation ceases to be an issue of fact, and the judge can decide it as an issue of law. In such cases, the judge will order the jury to hold that there was (or was not) causation, eliminating the jury’s ability to decide the issue on its own. This is because if reasonable minds cannot differ as to the outcome, the question ceases to be an issue of fact.
Proving causation requires significant legal analysis and application of the specific facts of the plaintiff’s case to the applicable laws and legal standards. If you believe an attorney has caused you damages, and that the attorney’s conduct was illegal, consult an experienced malpractice litigator promptly. Delay could cost you the ability to recover, or otherwise damage your legal rights.
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.