Legal Malpractice Defined
Legal malpractice is a type of professional negligence. Legal malpractice is defined under Missouri law as failure of an attorney to exercise the degree of care, skill, and learning in representing a client that is ordinarily exercised by other attorneys under the same or similar circumstances.
Even though a lawyer may have been negligent because he or she failed to exercise the degree of care that would have been exercised by other attorneys under the same or similar circumstances, the lawyer is only responsible to pay damages for legal malpractice if it can be proven that the client was damaged (suffered losses) because of the malpractice. For example, if a legal malpractice claim is brought against an attorney because a lawsuit was not timely filed for the client, it is necessary not only to prove the attorney was negligent in not having timely filed the claim, but also it is necessary to prove that the underling case would have been successful if it had been timely filed.
In a successful legal malpractice claim the client is entitled to recover compensation equivalent to the monetary damages caused to the client because of the malpractice and in some circumstances it may be possible to recover compensation for mental anguish. Additionally, if the attorney malpractice involved intentional wrongful conduct on the part of the attorney, or conscious disregard for the interests of the client, it may be possible to recover punitive damages for the purpose of punishment of the attorney.
In Missouri there is a five year time limit to file a claim against an attorney for legal malpractice. As with many time limits, there are exceptions to the five year limit for filing a legal malpractice claim. For example, the time limit laws (also called statutes of limitations) are extended if the client was too young to have filed a claim in his or her own name at time the malpractice occurred.
If you have a potential claim against a lawyer for legal malpractice that occurred more than five years ago there is a good chance the time limit for filing a claim has expired, but it is best to contact an attorney experienced in handling to legal malpractice claims to determine if there is an exception applicable to your situation.
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