Moving across state lines is a big event in your life – perhaps you retired, or are just ready for the glory of Florida beach life.
Besides that updated driver’s license and new plates for your car, and a brand new tax guy, you should also consider shopping around for a Florida-based attorney.
If you’ve been working with the same lawyer for years, you may be asking why. After all, good legal representation – someone you can trust in the stickiest of situations – can be hard to find.
The problem is, no matter how well-meaning, an attorney who isn’t familiar with Florida law may end up hurting you in the long run. In the worst-case scenario, you may find yourself having to file a lawsuit against your original lawyer for legal malpractice.
Learn about the different types of legal malpractice and how moving from state to state could put you and your out-of-state lawyer at risk. First, the definition of legal malpractice itself.
Legal Malpractice Defined
Legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer fails to complete the required duties to their client and their failure causes financial damages. This type of malpractice may occur due to the lawyer’s negligence or out of a desire for financial gain.
Types of Legal Malpractice in Florida
Legal malpractice is not just a single act, but a variety of criminal activities that fall under a broader umbrella. Examples of legal malpractice include:
- Failing to meet deadlines when filing paperwork
- Failing to compromise on financial or logistical issues
- Forgetting the details of your case or confusing them for another case
- Billing you for services that were not completed
- Failing to know or use the law to help you get the outcome that you want
- Going forward with your case or using information without your consent
An important distinction: when any of these acts occur but don’t result in financial damages, it is not considered legal malpractice. You are simply out of luck.
The Four Elements of a Legal Malpractice Case
In order to win a malpractice case, you will have to connect your lawyer’s negligence or actions to the loss of money or assets, and there are four elements that must be present for this kind of suit to prevail.
- You can prove the (former) lawyer had a duty to serve you (by contract, for instance)
- Through negligence or actions, the lawyer breached that duty to you
- You can prove actual monetary or asset loss
- And the attorney’s actions were the direct cause of that financial loss
A Florida legal malpractice lawyer can help you determine whether legal malpractice exists in your situation, and your next steps to recovering damages when it does.
How an Out-of-State Attorney Might Commit Legal Malpractice in FL
So how might this play out if you are using an out-of-state lawyer after you move to Florida, anyway? Legal malpractice can occur when your attorney is unfamiliar with Florida law.
Let’s say you move to Florida from Alabama. You get in a car accident because the driver was speeding. Here’s the catch: you were texting when the accident occurred.
An Example: Differences in Negligence Laws from State to State
You talk to your lawyer from Alabama and they don’t have much hope for you.
Alabama is a pure contributory negligence state, meaning that if you are found at fault for the accident, even if it’s just 5-10 percent your fault, you can’t recover any damages. The lawyer may suggest that you use an alternative strategy to recover damages.
Florida is not a contributory negligence state. Instead, if a plaintiff is found partially at-fault for a car accident, they can still recover damages. Those damages will be determined by how much fault is attributed to the plaintiff. So if a plaintiff files a lawsuit for $100,000, but is found 10 percent responsible for the accident, they will only recover $90,000. (Not nothing.)
Your lawyer should definitely be aware of the differences in negligence laws state to state. But if a lawyer is overwhelmed with clients and forgets to double-check negligence laws, they could be missing out on an opportunity to recover damages. Oversight and inexperience like this could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
Need a Florida Legal Malpractice Lawyer?
The best way to avoid the whole scenario and ensure that your lawyer knows Florida law? Hire a lawyer who has extensive experience practicing in Florida.
Winston Law Firm can help you through this transition to the Sunshine State. Our lawyers have consistently earned honors in the state of Florida, including the title of “SuperLawyer” and becoming a member of the “Legal Elite.”
These honors are given only to the top 5 percent of practicing attorneys across the state. Our team has successfully won thousands of personal injury cases – including legal and medical malpractice.
Contact us today for a free phone consultation. In the meantime, a warm welcome to the sunshine state!
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2017 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – and was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite” and as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015, 2016, and 2017.