Tuesday, December 27, 2005

S.C. Court of Appeals affirms summary judgment in legal malpractice case

In Doe v. Howe, the trial court affirmed summary judgment in a legal malpractice claim. Doe alleged he was sexually abused while attending the Porter-Gaud school in the 1970s. His attorney advised him there were problems with the statute of limitations but nonetheless arranged for a $88,000 settlement in May 2000. A few months later, in October 2000, a parent of another victim of sexual abuse at Porter-Gaud received jury verdicts against Porter-Gaud and the estates of two former officials of the school totaling $105 million dollars. After learning of the verdicts, Doe contacted his attorney the following month to inquire about the possibility of rescinding his settlement with Porter-Gaud. According to Doe, the attorney knew of no way to set aside the settlement, but nevertheless agreed to talk with his brother about the matter. Doe stated he never received an answer to his inquiry.

Doe sued the attorney for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. The trial judge dismissed both the legal malpractice claim and the breach of fiduciary duty claim because he viewed the record as presenting no triable issue of fact regarding whether Doe would have recovered more by either trial or settlement than $88,000 if he had retained a different lawyer. The Court of Appeals agreed, but vacated the dismissal of the breach of fiduciary duty cause of action and remanded the matter to the trial judge for an order identifying the facts and accompanying legal analysis on which he relied to enable a meaningful appellate review.

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