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Florida Appeals Court Dismissing Legal Malpractice Claim for Lack of Standing

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On September 26th, 2018, the Third District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida dismissed a legal malpractice claim that was filed by the mother of a special needs child. In the case of lack of Rochelle Driessen v. University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic, the plaintiff’s claim was dismissed for lack of standing.

In the United States, plaintiffs must have standing to be eligible to bring a legal case. Without standing, a case cannot be reviewed on its ‘merits’. Here, the court ruled that the child’s mother did not have the legal authority to bring such a claim because she was not the legal guardian of the child and she played no role in retaining the legal clinic as her counsel.

Disagreement With the Legal Advice Offered By the Children and Youth Law Clinic 

The core dispute in this case was over what special needs program the child would be placed in. The child’s co-legal guardians, her sister and her grandfather, together sought help from the University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic. Among other things, the clinic was tasked with finding and gaining access to the appropriate educational program to best serve the needs of the vulnerable child.

The child’s mother disagreed with the choices and actions of the Children and Youth Clinic. She was not satisfied with the type of program selected, and she disputed the manner in which the clinic staff characterized the child’s disability. She filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against the clinic arguing that their negligence had caused damage.

Legal Malpractice Claims: There Must Be a Duty of Care

Upon review, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss this case for lack of standing. Under Florida law, you must prove that a legal professional owes you a duty of a care in order to be eligible to bring a malpractice claim.

In this case, the mother was neither the child’s legal guardian nor did she choose to retain the services of the Children and Youth Law Clinic. The clinic owed her no legal duty. In cases where no contract existed between a client and an attorney, the client can only bring a legal malpractice claim if they are a third party beneficiary. The third party beneficiary in this case was the child, not the non-legal guardian mother.

The court acknowledges that it is wholly understandable that the mother had concerns about her child’s education and overall well-being, but nonetheless, those reasonable concerns are not sufficient to establish legal standing for the purpose of a malpractice lawsuit.

Contact Our South Florida Legal Malpractice Attorneys Today

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, we are proud to be a the ‘lawyer’s lawyers’. Our law firm has extensive experience complex legal malpractice claims. We can help protect your career and your professional reputation. To schedule a fully confidential review of your case, please contact us today. We have offices in West Palm Beach, Miami, and Palm Beach Gardens, and we handle legal malpractice claims throughout South Florida.

Resource:

3dca.flcourts.org/Opinions/3D18-0999.pdf

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