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Malpractice Liability to Non-Clients in Situations Involving Foreseeable Harm

Although as a general rule attorneys have no legally recognized duty (and thus, have no liability for malpractice) to non-client plaintiffs, California law does recognize an exception where the foreseeability of harm to a non-client outweighs “other policy considerations”–including the rule that attorneys should not be liable for malpractice in the absence of an attorney-client relationship.

Whether or not the foreseeability of harm outweighs other applicable public policy considerations is a “facts and circumstances” test, meaning that the answer depends on the individual facts and circumstances of the case in question. This also means that prospective plaintiffs must consult an attorney for an individual evaluation of their potential claims and legal rights, particularly where the plaintiff was not a client of the attorney against whom the plaintiff wishes to bring a lawsuit claiming professional negligence (malpractice).

As a general rule, people should not depend upon “other people’s lawyers” to protect their rights and interests, even where the lawyer’s actions might confer an incidental (or intended) benefit.

If your legal rights will be impacted by someone else’s lawsuit, transaction, or other legal actions, consult an attorney promptly to ensure that you and your rights are also properly represented. Do not depend on “someone else’s lawyer” to look out for your rights.

However, California courts may find lawyers liable to non-clients when the attorney commits malpractice, injuring the non-client, where the injury was foreseeable, and where holding the lawyer liable outweighs the policy considerations that normally prevent malpractice liability.

For example:

  • Close relatives of a client may have legal rights or interests in the outcome of the client’s lawsuit, transaction, or cause of action. In these cases, the lawyer may have an obligation to inform the relatives of the existence of their (actual or potential) legal claims.
  • Attorneys who work for collection agencies may owe a duty to the creditor on whose behalf the collection agency (and, by extension, the attorney) acts.

Other, similar situations also exist. Like the examples above, however, it’s impossible to evaluate a non-client’s potential rights and claims against an attorney without a specific, individual review of the facts and circumstances. If you believe you may have a claim against an attorney–one who represented you or one who represented someone else in a situation where you or your rights were harmed–consult an experienced lawyer promptly for an evaluation of your rights and potential claims.

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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. Malpractice (professional negligence) claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who represented you, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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