Encinias v. Whitener Law Firm, No. 30,106: New Mexico Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment for Attorney in Legal Malpractice Case

A New Mexico appellate court has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice action. In Encinias v. Whitener Law Firm, parents hired an attorney to bring an action against a school district after their son was brutally beaten on the school’s premises by two fellow students. The attack happened in a food vending area. There were no teachers or security staff present at the time of the fight.

The attorney neglected to file the action within the applicable New Mexico statute of limitations. The parents then sued the attorney, who moved for summary judgment. He claimed that the parents could not prove any damages arising from his conduct, because they would not have been successful in the underlying claim against the school. The trial court allowed the motion and the parents appealed.

The appellate court affirmed. Under New Mexico law, school districts are generally immune from suit. However, there are limited exceptions, including when personal injuries result from the negligence of public employees during the operation or maintenance of a building. The parents argued that the exception applied because the school had failed to supervise the area where the attack occurred.

The court disagreed, reasoning that the premises was not inherently dangerous to the public based on the district’s failure to provide staff where the fight had occurred, thereby providing immunity to the district, and preventing the parents’ malpractice claim.

Decision: Encinias v. Whitener Law Firm


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