The Maryland Court of Appeals underscored the scope of the “trial within a trial” doctrine in legal malpractice cases in Suder v. Whiteford, Taylor & Preston.
This is a trusts and estates case where the lawyer failed to timely file a request for an extension of time for his client to renounce her husband’s will (geez, that sounds bad) and elect her statutory share of her late husband’s estate which resulted in a financial loss for her. The law firm admitted legal malpractice but denied the malpractice caused the Plaintiff any injury. Plaintiff’s claim was eventually resolved in the underlying case.
Plaintiff’s legal malpractice lawyer made an interesting comment in Talbot County Circuit Court to the argument that legal malpractice did not cause the injury. First, the lawyer argued that the “case within a case” doctrine – the requirement of proving the underlying claim in a legal malpractice case – applies only when there was no resolution of the case that gave rise to the malpractice claim. Second, Plaintiff’s lawyer argued that the firm is limited to the defenses that had been raised by their client’s late husband’s son.
These arguments, albeit creative, failed. You can read the entire opinion here.