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Crosby v. Jones - 705 So. 2d 1356 (Fla. 1998)

Rule:

Florida holds that an attorney can be liable for damages that are incurred by a client based on the attorney's failure to act with a reasonable degree of care, skill, and dispatch. This does not mean, however, that an attorney acts as an insurer of the outcome of a case. Good faith tactical decisions or decisions that are made on a fairly debatable point of law are generally not actionable under the rule of judgmental immunity.

Facts:

Patricia Jones was injured in an automobile accident involving driver Judith Camus, her husband, the owner of the car, and Gulf Coast, which was Judith Camus' employer. She and her husband retained an attorney (Crosby) to represent them in the negligence suit. The Joneses settled with the insurer of the Camus vehicle for the policy limits. Based on the attorney's advice, the Joneses released the Camuses through a document which specifically provided that the Joneses were not releasing Gulf Coast.  Crosby then entered into a joint motion for dismissal with prejudice as to the Camuses. Subsequently, the trial court entered summary judgment in flavor of Gulf Coast, finding that the dismissal with prejudice of the Camuses constituted an adverse adjudication on the merits and barred any further action against Gulf Coast, a passive tortfeasor. On appeal, that decision was affirmed. The Jones filed a case against their attorney for malpractice. The trial court entered summary judgment for the attorney because of judgmental immunity. The appellate court reversed. The attorney appealed.

Issue:

Was the attorney liable for malpractice?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Florida held that an attorney was liable for damages incurred by a client due to a failure to act with a reasonable degree of care and skill. However, good faith tactical decisions made in a controversial legal area were not actionable due to judgmental immunity. The court found that because Fla. Stat. ch. 768.041(1) (1973) abolished the rule that a release of one tortfeasor automatically released the others, petitioner's advice as to the release was sound based upon existing law; thus, petitioner did not commit malpractice even though his conclusion was subsequently proven false.

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