Wooten v. Heisler, 82 Conn. App. 815, 847 A.2d 1040 (Conn. App. 2004).

CT: Underlying personal injury matter

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: The client was injured in a car accident and hired the lawyer to help him recover damages. After the lawyer brought a negligence action against the other driver, the client fired him and hired a new lawyer. The new lawyer settled the case for $70,000. Then, the client filed a legal malpractice action against the lawyer alleging that the lawyer had failed to tell him about medical treatment and testing he would need to help him improve his case. The client claims that if the lawyer had not been negligent, he would have been awarded $150,000. The lawyer filed a motion for summary judgment stating that the lawyers’ duties do not include advising his client about medical treatment. The trial court granted summary judgment and the client appealed.

Issue: Was summary judgment proper in this case? Does the lawyer have a duty to advise his client as to the appropriate course of medical diagnosis and treatment?

Ruling: Yes and no. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact. In this case, there is no issue of material fact because the lawyer produced evidence that the client had in fact obtained medical advice during the time the lawyer represented him. Thus, the client cannot claim that the lawyer’s failure to tell him to get medical advice kept him from a $150,000 award of compensation. As to the duty to advise, the Court held that “a lawyer has a duty to communicate with the client to the extent reasonably necessary to allow the client to make informed decisions . . . and to provide advice on legal and non-legal matters that are relevant to the client’s case.” (Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 and 1.4). However, the lawyers’ duties do not extend to offering medical advice to a client for the purpose of increasing the award of damages in a negligence claim.

Lesson: In this case, summary judgment would have been proper even if the court had found that the lawyer has a duty to offer medical advice. The client would not be allowed to sue the lawyer for not advising him to seek medical advice since the client did in fact obtain medical advise during the time he was represented by the lawyer.