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Watson v. Meltzer

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 12-29-2011
Case #: A139449
Landau, J. for the Court; Haselton, P.J.; & Duncan, J.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/A139449.pdf

Tort Law: To prove legal malpractice, plaintiffs' must prove that they would have obtained a more favorable result "but for" the negligence of the attorney, regardless of whether the malpractice occurred during litigation or during a business transaction.

Watson sold his Dodge dealership, but $1.9 million in withdrawal liability arose after the sale because Watson’s attorney failed to discover the liability. Watson contended that Meltzer, his former attorney, was negligent in not discovering the withdrawal liability earlier. The trial court determined that Meltzer did not cause Watson’s damages. Watson challenged the trial court’s ruling on the grounds that the “case-within-a-case” jury instruction given by the trial court was improper, asserting such an instruction did not apply to transactional malpractice cases, but only to litigation cases. The Court of Appeals found no evidence that “case-within-a-case” should be so narrowly construed. At issue on appeal was whether the jury instruction properly described the legal requirements to establish transactional legal malpractice. The Court held that, like litigation legal malpractice, Watson must prove that he would have obtained a more favorable result but for the negligence of Meltzer. Thus, the Court rejected Watson’s argument and did not distinguish between litigation and transactional legal malpractice. The Court found that Watson’s argument was more related to the difficulty of finding evidence proving a different outcome, than to jury instructions. Affirmed.