Douglas v. Monroe, 743 N.E.2d 1181 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001)

IN: Underlying wrongful death claim

Student Contributor: Jeff Cain

Facts: A college freshman drowns in his school’s pool. His mother is too distraught to seek counsel, but his older brother, who is a bank security guard, sees a lawyer in the lobby of the bank. The brother asks the lawyer if there is a time limit to file a suit. The lawyer said that he had two years to file a suit, but she did not tell him about the 180-day notice to file a tort claim, or that he should not rely on her legal advice. The mother retains a lawyer several months later, and learns that she has just missed the 180-day deadline.

Issue: Did the lawyer have an attorney-client relationship with the mother, even though she never met the lawyer, because the mother relied on the lawyer’s advice?

Ruling: No. An attorney-client relationship can be implied when a client seeks advice from a lawyer, the advice sought is within that lawyer’s professional competence, and the lawyer gives the sought advice. In this case, the mother never met or spoke with the lawyer; did not attempt to contact the lawyer, schedule an appointment with the lawyer, or consent to an attorney-client relationship with the lawyer; never entered into a contract with the lawyer or pay her for legal advice; and the mother never thought that the lawyer was representing her in her son’s death.

Lesson: When giving casual legal advice, a lawyer should always tell the recipient that they must not rely on their advice.  Even better, make sure you don’t give out casual legal advice. It will come back to haunt you, especially if the recipient relied on the advice and circumstances suggest that the lawyer had reason to believe he or she would so rely.