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Monday, April 28, 2008

A Kentucky-fried legal malpractice case

Minnesota Lawyer has an interesting story this week about a local attorney who found himself being sued for malpractice in Kentucky by a woman who claimed that she was his client. (I say claimed because the lawyer disagrees.) The woman, who was from Indiana, was the administrator of the estate of a person who lived and died in Kentucky. The woman was mulling filing a medical-malpractice suit against the decedent's health-care providers, and for reasons that are unclear contacted the Minnesota attorney. She filed out his retainer agreement and returned it, but the two had no further contact. The attorney officially declined the case in a letter sent several months later, shortly after the expiration of the applicable Kentucky statute of limitations on the estate's med-mal claim. The woman sued the attorney for legal malpractice in a Kentucky state court, and the case was removed to federal court.

The federal court judge in Kentucky denied the Minnesota attorney's motion to dismiss, despite his lack of contacts with Kentucky. The Kentucky judge concluded that the Minnesota lawyer's failure to act in Kentucky could help form the basis of jurisdiction. It's an interesting concept -- usually courts look at what you do in a state to determine if they have jurisdiction, not what you don't do. (Now that's putting the International Shoe on the other foot!)

For more about this fascinating case, see the Minnesota Lawyer article (password required). In the meantime, you may want to be careful about whom you give a copy of your retainer agreement to ...