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If you bring a legal malpractice lawsuit against your former attorney you may be entitled to recover damages, assuming you can prove he or she was negligent and you suffered damage. The damages recoverable in legal malpractice actions include compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate you for any losses you suffered due to the alleged malpractice.

Attorneys who have committed malpractice may be liable for all the subsequent damages their former clients suffered as result. Broadly, this means the client is entitled to be “made whole” by a compensatory damages award for the value of the claim or property interest lost as a result of the attorney’s negligence. These damages are determined by calculating the difference between what was recovered and what would have been recovered but for the attorney’s wrongful act or omission. This can be difficult to establish and is done through the case within a case approach of legal malpractice actions.

Below are the main categories of damages you may recover for legal malpractice:

Economic losses


In a successful malpractice action against your former attorney, you may be able to recover your economic losses. However, these losses must be clearly documented as you are required to prove you would have received a better result had your attorney not committed malpractice in his or her representation of you. Simply alleging that you would have done better if you had a different attorney is insufficient to show damages.

Therefore, it is extremely important to keep a thorough record of everything associated with your case. In many situations, the time between when you find out about the malpractice and when you file your claim will be spent working with your legal malpractice attorney on collecting this information, properly organizing it and building your case.

Attorney fees


Generally, fees you incur when filing and prosecuting your malpractice action are not recoverable compensatory damages, nor are the fees you paid to the negligent attorney.

However, under the “tort of another doctrine”, attorney fees may be recoverable as compensatory damages where you incurred those attorney fees to institute an action against a third party, or defend an action brought by a third party, as a direct result of attorney malpractice.    

Emotional Distress Damages


Emotional distress damages may potentially be recoverable in a legal malpractice action only in the rare situation that the acts complained of go beyond mere negligence or result in non-economic injury.  This is because California courts have explained that an attorney’s duty to his or her client in civil litigation ordinarily concerns the client’s economic interests and does not extend to protection against emotional injury.  Thus, an attorney’s negligence in rendering professional services generally will not support recovery of emotional distress damages.

Punitive damages


It’s rare for legal malpractice cases to involve punitive damages, as punitive damages are not recoverable based on conduct that is alleged to be merely negligent.  The rare exceptions that do exist typically occur when the attorney’s conduct was oppressive, fraudulent, or malicious. This is a very difficult standard to prove especially in a garden variety legal malpractice action.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Experienced Legal Malpractice Attorneys

It is important to remember that every legal malpractice claim is different. Individuals who are prepared to bring a legal malpractice claim must consult with an experienced malpractice attorney to determine the possible damages and if they have built up enough evidence to have a legitimate chance of recovering compensation.

To learn more about how you can move ahead with a legal malpractice claim, schedule a free consultation with our legal malpractice attorneys: (415) 352-0980.