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Kentucky Appeals Court Affirms Grant of Summary Judgment to Lawyer

Sammet v. Helline is an unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky. The case number is 2018-CA-1033. The story is familiar: a divorce lawyer sued for unpaid legal fees and received a legal malpractice counterclaim in return.

Here, the lawyer prevailed as the former client was unable to introduce any evidence of economic damages. Summary judgment for the lawyer was affirmed. The explanation:

We further note that Denise’s deposition and additional answers and responses to written discovery requests are largely irrelevant to Beth’s counterclaims, even though she claims denial of access to these precludes a grant of summary judgment. The standard to prove legal malpractice is well-settled.

Under the authority of the landmark decision of Maryland Casualty Co. v. Price, 231 F. 397 (4th Cir. 1916), appellant was required to prove in the legal malpractice suit (1) that [Denise] was employed by appellant; (2) that [s]he neglected [her] duty to exercise the ordinary care of a reasonably competent attorney acting in the same or similar circumstances; and (3) that such negligence resulted in and was the substantially contributing factor in the loss to the client.Daugherty v. Runner, 581 S.W.2d 12, 16 (Ky. App. 1978). The only two issues of fact which could possibly preclude a grant of summary judgment on Beth’s counterclaims in this case concern damages. No evidence of Beth’s actual proof of loss has been produced. Considering the record as developed, with discovery produced by Beth, as well as copies of the divorce file and billing from Denise, there is nothing in either Denise’s deposition or additional written discovery answers or responses from Denise which could create genuine issues of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment concerning damages relating to either a loss from Beth’s share of ISI’s distribution or frequent flyer miles. Nor can Beth’s argument that she does not have these items provide a basis for her claim that discovery is somehow not substantially complete, to avoid summary judgment, when she has had ample opportunity—over five years—to conduct discovery to establish even a scintilla of proof to support her counterclaims. Moreover, contrary to Beth’s assertion, we have found no court-ordered “stay” of discovery, and Beth has referred us to none, which would have otherwise impeded her efforts to obtain discovery through any means available to her under our civil rules of procedure.

The Clinton Law Firm has handled many legal malpractice cases for both plaintiffs and defendants. If you have a question about a legal malpractice case, do not hesitate to contact me at 312-357-1515.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.