SW Legal studies in Business

Malpractice Claim Not Allowed When Client Knows of Wrongdoing
Description

Appeals court held that the client of a lawyer, who lost a suit for defamation for false claims he made about a competitor, could not sue his attorney for malpractice since he knew that the claims he was making were false. Wrongdoers cannot seek compensation from others involved in wrongdoing.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Malpractice; In Pari Delicto

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Whiteheart owned a billboard advertising company. He failed to make lease payments for three years to the land owner where a billboard was located. The property owner then leased the billboard location to a competitor of Whiteheart, Skyad, owned by Payne. Attempting to stop that from happening, Whiteheart sent a letter to the property owner and others in the business, claiming that Payne was a “lease jumper” and that her business practices were unprofessional, unethical, and despicable. Whiteheart referred to Payne personally in derogatory terms. Whiteheart’s attorney, Waller, reviewed the letter before it was sent and failed to advise him that it could result in a finding of defamation per se. Payne sued Whiteheart and was awarded damages of $700,000. Whiteheart then sued his attorney, Waller, for malpractice. The district court dismissed the suit; Whiteheart appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. Whiteheart’s legal malpractice suit against Waller, the attorney who represented him in the underlying action, was barred, regardless of the nature of the advice he received from Waller. Whiteheart was in pari delicto with the attorney. Whiteheart was well aware that his claims made in the material he published about Payne were false. The in pari delicto doctrine prevents the courts from redistributing losses among wrongdoers. The law generally forbids redress to one for an injury done to him by another, if he is the first to be in the wrong about the matter of which he complains. Regardless of the legal advice provided by Waller, Whiteheart knew that the information he distributed about Payne was false.

Citation

Whiteheart v. Waller, ---S.E.2d--- (2009 WL 2601833, Ct. App., N.C., 2009)

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