One reason legal malpractice cases are difficult to prosecute is due to having to prove the underlying case on top of the attorney’s negligence. Defendants commonly argue that despite their negligence, they did not cause the plaintiff any injury because the plaintiff would not have prevailed in their underlying case anyway. Essentially attacking the third element of professional negligence actions – proximate cause. This type of defense strategy was employed in Roumbos v. Vazanellis. 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 83 (Ind. App. Ct. 2017).
There, the plaintiff in 2011 was visiting her husband at a hospital and tripped over wires that ran flush along the floor, which resulted in a severe injury. She hired defendants to file a negligence claim against the hospital; but, they failed to file the claim within the applicable statute of limitations period. Afterwards, the plaintiff filed a legal malpractice action against the Defendants due to their failure to file within the required period of time.
Defendants moved for summary judgment in 2016 based upon the supposed inability to win the underlying case. During her deposition, the plaintiff acknowledged that she knew of the wires existence and consciously avoided them because she knew if she stepped on them there was the possibility that she could have fallen. Additionally, she testified that the day that she fell, she had not looked down at where the wires were located and, if she had done so, she probably would have seen the wires and avoided them. Based on these statements, the trial court granted summary judgment reasoning that the plaintiff was aware of the dangerous condition.
But, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed this decision because the trial court did not consider the entirety of Section 343 Restatement (Second) of Torts when reaching its decision. Rather, qualifying circumstances exist under Section 343(a)(1) where a landowner may be liable for an invitee’s injury despite their knowledge or the obviousness of a dangerous condition. In such cases, the landowner is not relieved of the duty of reasonable care that it owes to the invitee for their protection. The Court relied upon an illustration in the Restatement to reach its conclusion. In the illustration, an invitee was aware of an open and obvious condition but forgets about and it and is injured. Despite being aware of the condition, under this illustration the landlord was nevertheless still liable because the it could reasonably anticipate the event. Consequently, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Alex Passo and the Patterson Law Firm, LLC handle legal malpractice actions throughout Illinois and Indiana. Alex can be reached at (312) 750-1820 or email@example.com.