Law School Case Brief
Stake v. Harlan - 529 So. 2d 1183 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1988)
A lawyer, without express agreement, is not an insurer or a guarantor of the soundness of his opinions, or the successful outcome of the litigation which he is employed to conduct, or that the instruments he will draft will be held valid by the court of last resort. He is not answerable for an error of judgment in the conduct of a case or for every mistake which may occur in practice. He does, however, undertake in the practice of his profession of the law that he is possessed of that reasonable knowledge and skill ordinarily possessed by other members of his profession. He contracts to use the reasonable knowledge and skill in the transaction of business which lawyers of ordinary ability, and skill possess and exercise. He is not to be held accountable for the consequences of every act which may be held to be an error by a court but he is not immune from responsibility, if he fails to employ in the work he undertakes that reasonable knowledge and skill exercised by lawyers of ordinary ability and skill.
Appellant clients sought review of a judgment dismissing with prejudice their amended complaint for legal malpractice against appellee attorney. Appellee represented appellants in their purchase of a condominium unit in which they assumed a first mortgage that contained a "due-on-sale" clause, with which appellants did not comply, based on the advice of appellee. However, after the closing of the sale, the mortgagee declared the entire loan balance immediately due and payable pursuant to the clause and foreclosed on the property. Appellants were unable to pay and had no recourse because they executed a release and hold harmless agreement on the advice of appellee, which was applicable under the circumstances.
Did the trial court properly dismiss the legal malpractice claim against defendant attorney?
The Court reversed the judgment and remanded the case. The record showed that appellee knew of a possible significant change of law regarding the effect of due-on-sale clauses, an issue that was pending before the state’s high court. According to the Court, it was error to rule, under the circumstances, that as a matter of law appellee had no duty to give appellants the benefit of his knowledge when it was foreseeable to him that appellants, if they had that knowledge, would have avoided acting to their material detriment.
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