First Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Award for Emotional Distress in Legal Malpractice Action

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Plaintiff may recover damages for emotional distress in a legal malpractice action, when the conduct of a lawyer causes injuries other than economic harm. In this case, the Plaintiff alleged he was improperly committed to a mental hospital as the result of the negligence of his court-appointed attorney, who represented him during the commitment proceedings.

At the commitment hearing, the attorney did not permit his client to testify and refused to withdraw when the client requested a new lawyer. The client maintained that his attorney told him to either leave the state or agree to the commitment. The client was committed for observation for twenty days, but was released earlier when a hospital psychiatrist questioned the justification for the commitment. Upon his release, the client sued his attorney seeking emotional damages arising from his commitment.


The First Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, finding that emotional damages were appropriate in such a case because they were a foreseeable consequence of the attorney’s negligent conduct. The court further explained that when a lawyer’s negligence causes a client to suffer serious harm to his reputation or loss of his freedom, compensation for mental anguish was appropriate. As a component of his damages, the Court took time to mention that the status of the client’s mental might be questioned by future employers as the result of the record of his commitment.

Source: Wagenmann v Adams.doc

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