Supreme Court Confirms Expert Testimony Required to Establish Causation in Legal Mal Cases
In the recent case of Bozelko v. Papastavros, 323 Conn. 275 (Sept. 27, 2016), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that expert testimony is required to establish the element of causation in a legal malpractice case. Thus, even where an attorney's performance was deficient, if the plaintiff cannot present expert testimony that the outcome of her case would have been different but for the attorney's negligence, the attorney will prevail. Bozelko thus provides an important procedural safeguard for Connecticut attorneys facing legal malpractice claims.
As legal malpractice is a type of negligence, a plaintiff must prove the traditional elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The first element is typically straightforward: a lawyer owes a duty to his or her client. The second element—breach of the duty—asks whether the attorney failed to render legal services with the skill and competence of a reasonably prudent lawyer. In other words, the inquiry is whether the lawyer breached the "standard of care" for attorneys. This is often a hotly contested issue, and the Connecticut Supreme Court has previously ruled that, in jury cases, expert testimony is generally required to establish the standard of care against which the jury must evaluate the attorney's conduct. This requirement ensures that the jury is properly educated and helps to weed out frivolous claims of negligence since the plaintiff must, at a minimum, find an expert willing to testify that the defendant breached the standard of care.
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