PROVING CAUSATION IN A LEGAL MALPRACTICE CASE—OR NOT

Rogers v. Zanetti
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-14-00733-CV (June 15, 2015)
Justices Francis, Lang-Miers, and Whitehill (Opinion)
One of the trickiest aspects of prosecuting a legal malpractice case is proving the case-within-a-case—that is, proving that, had things gone differently, the client would have achieved a better result. The ruling of the Dallas Court of Appeals in Rogers v. Zanetti demonstrates how difficult this can be.

The Clients suffered a multi-million-dollar judgment in a case in which they were found to have committed fraud and breached their fiduciary duties. They then sued their lawyers alleging, among other things, that the lawyers failed to call a damages expert at trial to rebut the other side’s expert damages testimony, and failed to convey a settlement offer. The Lawyers filed a no-evidence summary judgment motion arguing the Clients had no evidence that any alleged malpractice proximately caused the adverse judgment in the underlying case; the trial court agreed.

On appeal, the Dallas Court reviewed the Clients’ proffered testimony, expert and otherwise, found it to be “conclusory,” and therefore held it to be no evidence of causation. The Clients presented evidence that the jury thought the damages might have been too high and would have liked to have heard from a competing expert, as well as the opinion of the Clients’ subsequent lawyer that the failure to designate a competing expert contributed to the large adverse judgment. But the Court concluded it was pure speculation to assume the “jury, more likely than not, would have credited the Clients’ expert (whoever he or she might have been) over the [plaintiffs’] expert.”

The Clients also presented evidence that the attorneys failed to convey a settlement offer and that, had they known of the offer, they would have attempted “to negotiate the best possible resolution and release without incurring the time or expense of litigation.” But the Clients failed to raise a genuine fact issue “that a settlement actually would have been reached because there is no evidence proving that the same terms would have been acceptable” to both parties in the underlying litigation.

Because the Clients presented no evidence of causation, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Lawyers.

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