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Atkin v. Tittle & Tittle - 730 So. 2d 376 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999)

Rule:

An attorney may not neglect to perform the services that he agrees to perform or which by implication he agrees to perform when he accepts employment. An attorney may be held liable for damages incurred by a client based on the attorney's failure to act with a reasonable degree of care, skill, and dispatch.

Facts:

Plaintiff clients, who desired to purchase a vacant lot to construct a house, retained defendant attorney to represent them in the purchase. Defendant, who was concerned that the contiguous lot rule might invalidate the lot purchase, included a contingency about the rule in the purchase contract. After purchasing the property, plaintiffs were denied a building permit because of how the lot was zoned. Plaintiffs sued defendant for failing to discover that zoning law prohibited plaintiff’s intended use for the lot. The jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs, but the trial court directed a verdict for defendant. Plaintiff clients thereafter sought review of the trial court’s judgment.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in directing a verdict for defendant, notwithstanding the fact that the jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that the trial court erred when it found that plaintiffs failed to establish that defendant was employed with respect to the asserted negligent act; thus, it reversed the trial court’s order with directions to enter judgment according to the jury’s verdict. According to the court, plaintiffs had established that defendant assumed the responsibility to investigate the contiguous lot rule when he agreed to represent them regarding the purchase of a vacant lot on which plaintiffs sought to build a home. The court found that if defendant had adequately investigated the rule, he inevitably would have discovered that the zoning of the lot adversely impacted plaintiffs.

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