The Alaska Supreme Court has reversed the dismissal of a legal malpractice action. In L.D.G., Inc. v. Robinson, a man had consumed alcohol at a bar and then shot and killed a woman later that night. The patron was convicted of first degree murder and the estate of a victim brought a wrongful death action against the bar. The bar hired an attorney to defend it in that case.
The estate named the bar as the only defendant. The attorney failed to join the patron as a third-party defendant to bring a claim against him for an allocation of fault. After a jury trial, the court entered a directed verdict for the estate and, following a separate damages hearing, entered judgment in the amount of almost $1 million. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. The bar then brought a legal malpractice suit against the attorney for his failure to add the patron as a third-party defendant.
The attorney moved to dismiss the case on the basis that at the time of the underlying suit, Alaskan law was unsettled as to whether alcohol providers could bring contribution claims against consumers. He argued therefore, that attorneys cannot be held liable for an error in judgment regarding an unsettled area of law. The trial court granted the motion and the bar appealed.
The appellate court reversed. An attorney always has a duty to exercise reasonable care in representing a client. In this instance, the court found that, although the area of law was unsettled, a prudent attorney would have added the patron as a defendant, especially in light of the uncertainty in the law and the risk of not naming the patron. Therefore, dismissal was inappropriate and the court remanded the case for further proceedings.
Decision: L.D.G., Inc. v. Robinson