Noneconomic damages

Iowa Criminal Defense Attorney Prevails against Legal Malpractice Claim Brought by Former Client who Pled Guilty to Failing to Disclose he had HIV to Individual prior to Sexual Contact

A Black Hawk County jury found that a Waterloo attorney did not commit legal malpractice in his handling of a criminal matter in 2009.  In the underlying case, the attorney was retained to defend James Metcalf in a criminal matter where the state alleged he had sexual contact with another man without disclosing that he was HIV positive.  Metcalf would plead guilty in this matter and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.  Metcalf would later appeal this plea, which was set aside in a 2014 Iowa Supreme Court decision.

Metcalf then sued his former attorney for failing to investigate his case, and if he had, he should not have advised Metcalf to plead guilty because he would have learned that the transmission of HIV would be improbable in light of the medications he was taking.  However, the attorney argued that transmission was nevertheless possible, which still triggered criminal liability under the statute.  After hearing the testimony and arguments, the Black Hawk jury found that the attorney had not committed malpractice.

This was a rather interesting case from a damages perspective, even though the jury's decision did not trigger such an analysis.  Most states hold that plaintiffs in legal malpractice cases can only recover actual damages, and bars recovery for pain and suffering and emotional distress.  However, there has been some traction in jurisdictions to allow recovery for situations such as this one where a party’s constitutional right is lost.  See Wagenmann v. Adams, 829 F.2d 196 (1st Cir. 1987).

Alex Passo and the Patterson Law Firm, LLC handle legal malpractice actions throughout Illinois and Indiana.  If you have a legal malpractice case that you would like to discuss with Alex, you can reach him at (312) 750-1820 or