Law School Case Brief
Barcelo v. Elliott - 923 S.W.2d 575 (Tex. 1996)
Attorney drafting estate planning documents owed a duty to his client, but not to decedent's grandchildren, who were beneficiaries under the will that the attorney drafted.
Plaintiff grandchildren filed a legal malpractice action against the attorney, claiming that the will failed to fulfill the testator's intent. The attorney moved for summary judgment and his motion was granted. The trial court held that without a privity barrier to recovery, clients would lose control over the attorney-client relationship and attorneys would be subject to almost unlimited liability. Additionally, the court held that it was unable to craft a rule that allowed a lawsuit to proceed where alleged malpractice caused a will or trust to fail in a manner that cast no real doubt on the testator's intentions, while prohibiting actions in other situations.
Did the attorney owe a duty of care to the testator's grandchildren?
There was no real doubt as to the testator's intent and extending the attorney's duty to third parties would cause the attorney and client to lose control of the attorney/client relationship. Further, legal malpractice is founded on the principles of tort law and there was no duty of care that extended to any third party beneficiary.
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