You might not like the procedural requirements for legal malpractice cases under Minnesota law, but you still have to heed them (or lose your case).
So held the Minnesota Court of Appeals (AGAIN) this week in Mittelstaedt v. Henney (see pp. 13-14).
And you cannot maneuver around the statute by calling your claim a “breach of fiduciary duty claim” rather than a claim for professional malpractice (or professional negligence). If you sue a Minnesota lawyer for work the lawyer did, you are probably going to have to meet the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 544.42.
The situation of “an obviously missed deadline or a clear case of stealing client funds” might not require expert testimony. It might be an exception to the rule. But in any case with “complicated and murky” facts, you cannot proceed without meeting the statutory requirements. Mittelstaedt v. Henney (see pp. 15-16).
Mittelstaedt v. Henney highlights the importance of the statutory requirements for a legal malpractice case under Minnesota law. It also highlights how bad they are or how useful those requirements are, depending on one’s perspective.
From the malpractice plaintiff’s perspective, it was “blatantly obvious” that Attorney Bill Henney had violated a fiduciary duty owed to the plaintiff. Mittelstaedt v. Henney (see pp. 15). We can speculate that Mr. Henney, over his 38 years of legal practice, has a robust network of friends and colleagues in the legal community. Requiring the malpractice plaintiff to find an expert in the particular area of Minnesota law practice willing to condemn Mr. Henney might be difficult. While there are many Minnesota lawyers, there are undoubtedly few with the credentials plus the comfort in testifying as an expert against another Minnesota lawyer in the same area of practice.
From the defendant lawyer’s perspective, on the other hand, the procedural hurdles are a huge relief. In almost ever lawsuit and in a great number of contentious business dealings, one side or the other feels he lost and, often, the loser turns his anger toward his lawyer with the help of 20/20 hindsight and, often, selective memory, as well. We did not dig into the Mittelstaedt case in detail but, from the opinion, it is not difficult to see the outlines of a lawyer’s defense.
We offer no opinion as to whether there was any substance to Mr. Mittelstaedt’s claims against Mr. Henney. We only highlighting the case as one more reminder of the importance of the procedural rules of Minn. Stat. § 544.42.
We remind our readers of the Three C’s in legal malpractice cases that make them extremely difficult cases to win on: (see our 2017 post here).
And, finally, we note that Mr. Mittelstaedt won his case, though not against Mr. Henney. He won $275,328.28 though he owed Mr. Prosser, the opposing party, $272,421, netting him $2,907.28. Let us hope that his legal fees for two years of litigation were less than $2,907.28 Otherwise, the case might not have turned out so well for him in the end…(LOL).
If, after reading this, you think you might have a viable claim for legal malpractice, call us at LEVENTHAL pllc to discuss: 612-234-7349. We have experience with legal malpractice claims in Minnesota.