From fee disputes to allegations of negligent advice, lawyers are facing more malpractice claims from disgruntled former clients, according to a new survey of legal malpractice trends.
According to a 2011 Ames & Gough survey, a majority of the major legal malpractice insurance providers report an increase in malpractice claims. While claims are up as much as 20 percent, the survey also notes that large claims(with reserves over $500k) are also on the rise. There has also been an uptick in multi-million dollar claim payments – five of the six insurers surveyed were involved in paying a claim of $50 million or more.
Dallas attorney Nicole LeBoeuf, a partner at Shackelford Melton & McKinley who frequently defends lawyers in malpractice claims, says increased interest in legal malpractice is affected by a number of factors, including a sputtering economy. "In better economic times, people are more likely to move on than to place blame after a deal goes south," LeBoeuf says. "There's more at stake in a down economy and lawyers increasingly are finding themselves blamed when parties try to recoup losses."
Real estate, corporate & securities work, and trusts & estates cases account for the bulk of the legal malpractice claims. Meanwhile, conflict of interest is the single largest type of claim. The survey’s findings have been highlighted in the WSJ Law Blog and Insurance Journal.
“With more [real estate] transactions comes more closings and increased risk of errors,” the report states. “Further compounding this situation was the economic downturn that befan in the fall of 2008. As property values plummeted, more buyers and lenders began to look to the parties involved in these transactions to lay blame and seek to recoup their losses.”
The fatal fall of Texas Rangers fan Shannon Stone has captured the public eye. Stone, a firefighter who attended the game with his 6-year-old son, tipped over a railing and fell to his death 20 feet below after reaching to catch a ball thrown to him by Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all covered the tragedy.
More importantly, Stone’s death has garnered some serious attention from the Major League Baseball Association. Commissioner Bud Selig has asked all MLB franchises to conduct safety investigations, advising them to consider installing higher railings on ballpark decks. Many safety experts say team owners should have taken note of a string of non-fatal falls that have occurred since the ballpark opened in 1994 and taken appropriate safety precautions.
“Anyone with a basic understanding of physics would understand why these rails are potentially dangerous,” says Dallas trial attorney Frank L. Branson, who successfully sued the Dallas Cowboys over design flaws that resulted in the collapse of a team practice facility. “Unfortunately, the refusal to correct a serious safety issue probably cost this husband and father his life.”
Nationally known safety expert Nigel Ellis says the solution may be modifying rails so that they extend outward rather than upward. Increasing safety without compromising sightlines, this kind of guardrail is standard at hotels with tall atriums, says Ellis. Ellis tells the Dallas Morning News that it’s time MLB takes action.
According to the Dallas Observer Unfair Park blog, Rangers officials have been consulting with contractors, architects, and other experts, and have made plans to raise guardrails. In the interim, says John Blake, Executive Vice President of Communications for the Texas Rangers, ballpark officials will be taking precautionary measures, including installing signs deterring fans from leaning over rails and broadcasting a pre-game warning over the park’s public address system and on scoreboards.