Solicitor negligence is when a solicitor breaches their duty of care to their client. This means that they have made a mistake, or have not acted with reasonable care and skill, resulting in their client suffering harm or financial loss. Common examples of solicitor negligence include administrative errors, such as missing deadlines or incorrectly valuing a claim, and providing bad advice which results in a significant loss for the client. It is important that solicitors adhere to the expectations set out in their contract, as negligence claims can have serious consequences.
Simply put, for a mistake to amount to negligence you must have (1) made a mistake, (2) breached your duty to the client, and (3) the client must be able to show that if it weren’t for your mistake, they would not have suffered the harm or loss at hand.
If a client’s claim against you succeeds, you will have to pay damages that puts the client in the position they would have been in had the negligence not taken place.
A duty of care is normally always put in place when you first enter a partnership with your client. The terms vary a lot between cases and the demands of specific clients, but there is always a standard that solicitors need to adhere to.
A retainer is signed, whether in contract form or as a letter of business, setting out the solicitor’s duties regarding their client. Generally, a solicitor is required to act with reasonable care and skill. The relativity of these terms allows for some wiggle room on both ends of the contract.
But a breach of duty of care does not simply amount to one mistake. So, if a client looking to receive damages cannot prove that their lawyer has not respected these requirements either gravely or repeatedly, their claim is unlikely to go through.
Solicitors are usually required in order to resolve financial issues or help their client receive damages. Therefore, another factor which is necessary for a client to issue a claim against their solicitor would be proof of monetary loss caused by their actions.
Personal financial loss at a solicitor’s hands, however, can also be difficult to prove. The rules of causation and loss are complex; thus a client would need sufficient proof and motive in order to file a negligence claim.
As per the requirements for filing a negligence claim, a solicitor would need to have made a pretty big, costly mistake for a client’s request to be accepted. Here are the most common reasons for solicitor negligence claims.
Solicitors are liable to a wealth of different administrative errors. They deal with a lot of paperwork and technicalities in their everyday lives, and it only takes one mistake for a whole case to go awry. But negligence is more than writing an incorrect number down or forgetting to draft something for their client.
An example of administrative negligence would be the repeated failure to meet deadlines. Time is of the essence when it comes to court cases, and the longer a solicitor spends on one item, the longer a client will have to pay them for. In cases of misconduct, a solicitor missing their deadlines will have caused significant losses to their client.
Missing a court deadline can have huge consequences as a client may lose their chance to pursue a claim as a result. This is because under the 1980 Limitation Act, there are set time limits for making claims for compensation. Usually, civil claims must be served within a six-year period. Meanwhile, personal injury claims should be made within three years after the date or diagnosis of injury. As such, solicitors need to make sure that they keep your client advised of the progress of the case while drafting and serving the required legal documents for the claim.
Another example would be the incorrect valuation of a client’s claim; this could mean settling, or even filing, for the wrong amount of money. In this case, at the end of an entire process, which could last months or even years, a client would have suffered a large loss as a result of their solicitor’s negligence.
A solicitor might be accused of incorrectly collecting evidence for their client’s claim. This could mean that the solicitor did not collect appropriate evidence, that they missed out evidence, or that there was not enough for the client to win their case.
This is because under the 1980 Limitation Act, there are set time limits for making claims for compensation. Usually, civil claims must be served within a six-year period. Meanwhile, personal injury claims should be made within three years after the date or diagnosis of injury. As such, you need to make sure that you keep your client advised of the progress of the case while drafting and serving the required legal documents for the claim.
Some solicitors have sued the wrong party, which is much more common than one would think because of the extremely complicated nature of many proceedings. Land lawyers may have failed to carry out a search on a purchase of a house. If mistakes are made in conveyancing negligence cases, the client can claim for the difference in the price they paid for a house and the price they would have paid had a mistake not been made.
Read more about the 1980 Limitation Act here.
If a client is claiming negligence on t heir solicitor’s part for giving them ‘bad’ advice, they would need to prove that the advice they were given was erroneous, or that it resulted in a significant loss for the client. This would not include instances such as the client being offered more than one option for the solicitor’s approach to their case, and choosing the wrong one. Instead, the advice that the client was given could be inaccurate, resulting in their settling for less than they were owed.
Donoghue Solicitors gives the example of a case they handled wherein a man instructed the firm to sue his former solicitors for compensation after they had handled his accident at work claim. The previous solicitors advised him to accept an offer which he thought was unfair.
After having second thoughts about the settlement, he got a more senior solicitor to review the case. It was found that the case had been under-settled, particularly concerning the personal injury element of the claim. The client could then successfully sue the former solicitors for his potential loss.
Want to know more about property law? Here are five property law cases you should know about.
Consequences can go beyond financial loss, however. Bad advice can lead to clients being incarcerated in prison. Here, the client could sue for loss of quality of life on the grounds that the failure to represent them properly resulted in imprisonment.
Bad advice can be the result of insufficient or poor preparation of a case. For instance, personal injury lawyers’ mistakes can be a result of a poor investigation of medical issues or certificate. For land lawyers, this could be bad advice on the title or ownership of a property or properties. Perhaps they have failed to advise about planning permissions or building regulations because they did not research properly.
In 2011, Mrs McComb sued her solicitors for negligence, specifically for inaccurate advice and a failure to protect her against financial losses. McComb had sued Marks & Spencer’s for a workplace injury which had resulted in a hospital visit. Marks and Spencer’s denied liability, and eventually the solicitors and Mrs McComb broke off their partnership.
McComb claimed that the solicitors had instructed that her legal costs would be covered by legal aid. However, that did not turn out to be correct. As a result, the woman was served with a medical, legal and court fees bill amounting close to £5,000. However, the solicitors claimed that they never offered such advice to Mrs McComb, and that they had the evidence to prove it.
In the end, the court ruled that the evidence supplied by the solicitors was enough to determine that they had not been negligent, and that the quality of their services were of a quality that ‘could reasonably have been expected’.
Here are some more cases you should know about.
Solicitor negligence can cost clients their livelihoods, and it should not be taken lightly. As representatives of justice, solicitors should conform to the expectations that have been set for them, and act in their client’s best interest. However, it is also important to remember that solicitors are people too, who, like their clients, are also liable to mistakes. It would be very unusual for a solicitor to offer inaccurate advice or not fight for what their clients deserve. However, when these instances do occur, clients should be informed about their options and the steps to claiming solicitor negligence.
Want to know how to avoid mistakes as a solicitor? Here’s what makes a good lawyer.
Loading More Content