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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Legal Malpractice Damages Limited

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Over at the Legal Reader there is a post regarding the damages that can be sought against a lawyer who botches a lawsuit.

Illinois Court Limits Awards in Legal Malpractice Cases

In a 4-3 decision that aids lawyers accused of malpractice, the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday limited the type of damages that clients can receive from attorneys who botch a lawsuit.

In a first-of-its-kind case in Illinois, the court ruled that clients may sue their lawyers for the standard, compensatory damages they would have won if their lawsuit had been properly brought.

But writing for the majority, Justice Lloyd Karmeier said clients could not sue their lawyers for lost punitive damages, which juries sometimes award to punish defendants for intentional misconduct.

Lawyers should pay for their negligence, but to hold them responsible for the intentional misconduct of someone else “tears the concept of punitive damages from its doctrinal moorings,” Karmeier wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Charles Freeman called the result a “gross injustice.”

I have to admit that my initial reaction to this decision was to side with the dissenting opinion. It seemed that the victim of the legal malpractice would not be obtaining full justice without the ability to receive the punitive damages to which he would have been entitled.

Then, after reflection, I realized that the jury hearing the legal malpractice case would be punishing the lawyer and not the original wrongdoer. Part of the punishment equation in the case against the wrongdoer would have been the financial circumstance or wealth of the wrongdoer. It may require a $20 Million punitive damage award to impact a national corporation. The same award against the lawyer would likely cause bankruptcy and, as a practical matter, impose a punishment upon him that would never be required by his simple act of negligence in representation.