Legal Malpractice Claim Requires Medical Expert

Jeanette Hooper and her husband Charles sued their lawyers for legal malpractice. The underlying case had been a personal injury suit arising out of a car wreck, which was apparently dismissed after the lawyers sued the owner of the other vehicle instead of the actual driver. The jury awarded $235,000 in damages, based on the testimony of a legal expert who opined that the Hoopers should have recovered $130,000 for past medical expenses, $180,000 for lost earning capacity, $250,000 for pain and suffering, and $250,000 for damages such as loss of consortium and physical impairment. On appeal, however, the court of appeals held that the testimony did not establish a causal link between the underlying car wreck and the subsequent damages. While it was justifiable for the jury to compensate the plaintiffs for damages sustained in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, such as emergency room bills and initial pain and suffering, the “case-within-a-case” aspect of the legal malpractice claim required the plaintiffs to establish a causal connection between the accident and the health problems Charles experienced months and even years after the collision. That connection needed to be made by the testimony of a medical expert, and could not be demonstrated through bare medical records or inferred by the jury. Because some elements of the plaintiffs’ damages were valid and some were invalid, the court of appeals also sustained the defendants’ challenge to the trial court’s submission of a broad-form damages question, reversed the judgment, and remanded for further proceedings.

Kelley & Witherspoon, LLP v. Hooper, No. 05-11-01256-CV

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