What if a Lawyer Screwed Up My Case?

If you have ever pursued a personal injury claim or been a litigant in any other type of court case, you have probably come to appreciate that the legal system can be quite complicated. First, the facts of the case aren’t always straight-forward and often require careful investigation and analysis. Then, the case is governed by applicable substantive law, consisting of complex statutes and appellate cases. Additionally, the litigation must be conducted within the framework of numerous procedural rules. As a result, litigants often turn to attorneys to take the helm in navigating through all this complexity.

Fortunately, many attorneys are able to successfully fulfill their professional obligations. But some lawyers make mistakes that doom their clients’ cases, even when a very good result should have been expected.

In this article, we’ll discuss legal malpractice in Oregon.

How Do You Prove Legal Malpractice in Oregon?

When pursuing a legal malpractice case, the plaintiff, just as in other civil lawsuits, must prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. To prove legal malpractice based upon negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following elements.

1. Duty – The plaintiff/client must prove that the attorney/defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. At first blush, this seems like an easy requirement to meet, and it often is. For example, an attorney and client often have a longstanding relationship before the alleged malpractice is committed.

However, in some instances it is much less clear. The attorney may contend that no attorney-client relationship was ever formed and no duty was owed. These types of disputes can arise when the plaintiff and the attorney have very limited contact. For example, perhaps the parties talked only briefly on the telephone or in a single office meeting.

2. Breach – Once it is demonstrated that the attorney owed a duty to the client, it must be proved that the attorney breached the duty. This is where negligence is at issue. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must show that the attorney did not meet the applicable standard of care. This means that the attorney did not act as other attorneys would have acted under the same or similar circumstances. This element of legal malpractice is often highly disputed and may require the use of other attorneys as expert witnesses. 

3. Harm – The plaintiff must next prove that he or she suffered harm that is measurable in damages. Even if a plaintiff proves that an attorney did not act reasonably and did not meet the applicable standard of care, it can be challenging to prove the actual amount of damages.

Consider an attorney who improperly calendars the applicable statute of limitations for a client’s personal injury lawsuit. As a result, the case is filed late and thrown out of court. It’s clear that the attorney breached the standard of care, but what are the damages? Just as the amount of damages would have been at issue in the underlying personal injury case, they will be an issue in the legal malpractice case. Ultimately, it can become necessary to essentially try the personal injury case to prove the damages in the legal malpractice case.

4. Causation – Finally, to recover for legal malpractice, the plaintiff must prove that the lawyer’s malpractice caused the injury to the plaintiff.

Other Grounds for Recovery

While we have focused on an attorney’s negligence, keep in mind that attorneys can also be held accountable for other forms of wrongdoing, such as breach of contract and intentional wrongdoing. Some improper actions by attorneys can also lead to other consequences, such as disbarment and criminal charges.

Call with Questions

Legal malpractice can happen in a variety of ways and in many types of cases. If you have been involved in a lawsuit, or relied upon the advice of an attorney, and believe that you were harmed as a result of the attorney’s malpractice, you likely have questions. We’re here to answer them for you. The experienced legal malpractice attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield can also help you investigate and evaluate your case.

As with all professionals, society expects attorneys to act with the appropriate diligence and care at all times. When they don’t, they must be held accountable for their actions. Holding lawyers to this standard protects all of society.


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