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Have you been accused of legal malpractice in Ohio or Florida?

Accusations of legal malpractice must be handled with due care and skill to avoid professional repercussions.

An allegation of legal or professional malpractice can have a huge impact on your professional reputation. Should you be found negligent, that impact will be even greater. These cases are notoriously difficult to prove, but they are likewise difficult to defend, and there is much at stake.

By understanding more about these causes of action - and viable defenses to them - you can make more informed decisions should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of an allegation. For assistance handling a legal malpractice case in either Ohio or Florida, call on the skilled attorneys at Bonezzi Switzer Polito & Hupp Co. L.P.A. Contact the firm online for more information.

What are the elements of a legal malpractice claim?

Legal malpractice cases are, at their core, tort claims based upon negligence. As such, they share many of the same essential elements as other negligence-related claims. There must be a duty to perform in a certain manner or according to a certain standard of conduct (or, if the action is based upon a contract, to the terms specified in the contract). The standard of performance to which defendants in legal malpractice cases are held is the rules of professional conduct and practice for licensed attorneys in the state in which the claim is being brought.

Next, there must be a breach of that duty of performance, and the breach must have caused harm or detriment to the person bringing the action. Finally, there needs to be a showing that the breach not only caused harm, but that actual economic damages resulted from the breach.

In legal malpractice cases, there is also a requirement that the person bringing the action be "in privity" with the attorney accused of malpractice. This is typically shown by existence of an attorney-client relationship through a retainer agreement or, at the very least, the implication of a retainer through behavior on the part of the attorney. Absent a relationship between the plaintiff and the attorney, there usually cannot be any showing of malpractice.

Furthermore, legal malpractice cases often turn on the fact that the plaintiff cannot show that, absent the attorney's alleged malfeasance, negligence or breach of duty, the underlying case would have turned out differently (i.e., that the plaintiff would have prevailed or been more successful in his or her original legal matter).

A possible defense: statute of limitations

In Ohio, legal malpractice claims must be brought within one year from the time the "cause of action accrued" (see Ohio Revised Code Section 2305.11(A)). Under Florida Statutes Section 95.11(4)(A), plaintiffs who are "in privity with the professional" have two years "from the time the cause of action is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence" to bring a claim.

Another possible defense: proximate cause

To prevail on a legal malpractice claim, the plaintiff must prove not only that the attorney had a duty of performance and that the duty was breached, but that he or she would have "won" the underlying legal cause of action were it not for the actions of the attorney. This sounds like a difficult legal burden, and it is: this added element of proof ensures that attorneys are able to zealously represent their clients and use their best judgment about how to reasonably proceed without unnecessary fear of retribution in the form of frivolous lawsuits just because the client didn't get the result he or she wanted.

Of course, there are myriad other possible defenses against legal malpractice allegations, and these complex cases require both skill and finesse. Speak with an attorney at Bonezzi Switzer Polito & Hupp Co. L.P.A. to protect your good name and