My Attorney Screwed Up My Case…What Are My Rights?

When you hire a personal injury lawyer, you expect them to prioritize your best interests.

They work for you. However, what happens if your attorney screws up your case?

What rights do you have for suing a lawyer for not doing their job?

What Are My Rights as a Legal Client in California?

California lawyers are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules explain the duties lawyers have to their clients and the court. They govern an attorney’s conduct to protect the public, the legal profession, and the judicial system.

The California Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers include, but are not limited to:

  • Keep clients reasonably informed about the progress of their case
  • Promptly reply to a client’s reasonable requests for copies of documents and information about their case
  • Consult with a client about the direction of their case and abide by a client’s decisions
  • Promptly communicate with a client regarding the conditions and terms of a settlement offer
  • Promptly discuss matters that require the client to provide informed consent or make a decision
  • Act with reasonable diligence in all matters related to the client’s case
  • Explain matters to the client to the extent they can understand the issues to make an informed decision
  • Notify a client immediately about a conflict of interest
  • Hold client funds in a secure trust account
  • Charge a reasonable fee for legal services

The Rules of Professional Conduct cover many more topics. Violations can result in sanctions and disbarment for an attorney. A client has several options if their attorney violates the Rules and/or screws up their case.

What Can I Do if My Attorney Screws Up My Personal Injury Case in California?

There are several options if your attorney made mistakes that screwed up your personal injury case

Your options include:

  • Firing your personal injury lawyer
  • Reporting the attorney’s conduct to the California State Bar, which could result in disciplinary action
  • Hiring a new personal injury attorney to handle your case
  • Filing a legal malpractice claim against your former attorney seeking compensation for financial losses

A different personal injury lawyer may be able to help you with your claim. It depends on the circumstances of your case and the actions of your prior attorney. 

Legal malpractice claims are complex. When hiring a new attorney, ensure that they have experience handling these types of claims.

Malpractice is professional negligence. An attorney commits legal malpractice when they breach their duty to a client. 

Proving legal malpractice requires evidence demonstrating each of the following elements:

  • Duty of Care – The attorney owes the client a legal duty of care to provide services that comply with the California Rules of Professional Conduct. A duty is established when an attorney-client relationship exists.
  • Breach of Duty – The attorney’s conduct did not meet the standard of care because of the attorney’s negligence, intentional torts, errors, or other wrongdoing.
  • Causation – The attorney’s breach of duty directly and proximately caused the client harm.
  • Damages – The client incurred financial losses because of the attorney’s conduct.

As with medical malpractice claims, expert witnesses may be called to analyze an attorney’s conduct. The expert establishes the standard of care that should have been used in a situation. They also assist in determining how the attorney’s conduct failed to meet the standard of care.

You must have sustained actual damages to recover compensation in a legal malpractice claim. Actual damages refer to the harm caused by the attorney’s breach of duty.

For example, an attorney misses a deadline to file a lawsuit. As a result, you cannot pursue a personal injury claim in court. Your damages could be the amount you would have sought in the lawsuit. You must prove that the attorney’s actions directly resulted in your financial losses.

Common issues that could lead to a legal malpractice claim against a personal injury lawyer include:

  • Accepting a personal injury settlement without obtaining the client’s approval
  • Failing to file documents and/or missing filing deadlines
  • Errors in planning and legal strategy
  • Failing to conduct adequate discovery during a personal injury lawsuit
  • Misappropriating client funds
  • Failing to conduct research and/or apply the applicable law to the client’s case
  • Failing to check and/or disclose conflicts of interests
  • Lack of communication with the client
  • General negligence in professional conduct
  • Intentional torts, including theft or fraud
  • Disputes regarding fees and costs

General negligence covers a wide variety of actions and omissions. For example, breaking the attorney-client privilege could be considered negligent. An attorney may be negligent if they advise a client to take a settlement offer that is lower than the value of their damages. Attorneys who fail to prepare their arguments for court could also be negligent.

As with other claims seeking damages from a party who caused you harm, there is a statute of limitations for filing a legal malpractice claim. The California Code of Civil Procedure §340.06 allows one year after the discovery of the injury or four years after the date of injury, whichever is earlier, to file a legal malpractice case.

As with other statutes of limitations, there are exceptions. If the lawyer committed fraud, the deadline may be different. Other actions could change the deadline to file a legal malpractice claim, such as breach of contract. Because your lawsuit could be dismissed for missing the filing deadline, it is crucial to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Contact Our Vista Personal Injury Attorneys For Help If Your Lawyer Screwed Up Your Case

Did you lose faith in your attorney because they screwed up your personal injury case? Do you need to fire your current lawyer, hire an experienced personal injury attorney, and/or file a legal malpractice claim?

If so, contact Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers at (619) 344-0360 for help. You could be entitled to compensation for your losses and damages. We’ll explore all claims and actions that can get you the money you deserve.