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Law School Case Brief

Kates v. Robinson - 786 So. 2d 61 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2001)


A cause of action for legal malpractice has three elements: (1) the attorney's employment; (2) the attorney's neglect of a reasonable duty; and (3) the attorney's negligence resulted in and was the proximate cause of loss to the client. In stating a claim for legal malpractice, it is not sufficient merely to assert an attorney-client relationship. The plaintiff must also allege that a relationship existed between the parties with respect to the acts or omissions upon which the malpractice claim is based.


Appellants, George Kates and Nehama Kates (“the Kates”), hired James D. Robinson, and Spence and his firm, Payne, Masington & Needle, P.A., (“Spence, Payne”) to represent their interest in a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages. Upon advice from Robinson, the Kates signed a consent judgment. Thereafter, the Kates hired second attorney, Jay, to pursue collection of the judgment. Jay discovered that the Kates could have sued a lessee partnership, who had not been joined in their suit. Had the Kates known this, they would not have agreed to settle. The Kates filed a malpractice suit against Spence, Payne, and against Jay. The trial court granted all defense motions for dismissal. 


Did plaintiff clients' complaint sufficiently the three elements necessary for a legal malpractice cause of action?


Yes (attorney Robinson and law firm Spence, Payne); No (attorney Jay)


The Court of Appeal of Florida affirmed the dismissal of the complaint against attorney Jay because the complaint against Jay did not state a cause of action. The Court found that Jay's only obligation was to pursue collection and not seek out additional parties to sue. The Court reversed the order dismissing the complaint against attorney Robinson and law firm Spence, Payne. In reaching its decision, the Court looked to a three-element test in holding that the Kates alleged a cause of action for legal malpractice against law firm Spence, Payne and attorney Robinson. The Court found that Robinson and Spencer, Payne were hired to pursue a personal injury action; they neglected to file suit against all of the potentially liable parties; they failed to advise the Kates clients of the existence of the lessees; and they advised the Kates that no other parties were liable for their damages and urged them to enter into a consent final judgment. 

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