Jurors in Park City, Utah found prominent West Coast law firm Stoel Rives guilty of legal malpractice in a botched real estate development deal. The firm must now pay their former client $12.8 million in damages. The suit also named one of the firm’s top real estate and construction law partners, Thomas Ellison.
According to U.S. News, Stoel Rives ranks as one of the best law firms in the nation. With offices throughout the west, its lawyers are well known in a number of fields including real estate. With over 400 lawyers, many would say Stoel Rives qualifies as a top tier law firm.
Although we are not fans of the huge, “we do everything” law firm model, legal malpractice doesn’t discriminate by the size of the firm or how many lawyers they employ. Even the professional qualifications of the lawyer don’t always prevent mistakes. According to Ellison’s profile, he appears to be highly qualified and well respected in the legal community. Everyone makes mistakes.
According to published reports in Law360 and other sources, the owner of an 8600 acre cattle ranch near Park City, Utah decided to develop his ranch and offer luxury living units. At the time of his plan, zoning codes allowed such a development. Once the county got wind, however, they moved to prevent such projects.
We know from the suit that the property owner hired Stoel Rives to assist in the project. What happened after that is unclear.
The ranch owner says that Ellison and Stoel Rives committed legal malpractice by not monitoring and responding to zoning changes proposed by the county. The law firm says it did nothing wrong. After a 14 day trial, jurors found that the zoning changes diminished the property’s value by $21 million. They said that the ranch owner was 40% at fault and reduced the damage award against the law firm. The net result is a $12 million legal malpractice verdict against Stoel Rives.
While any lawyer can make a mistake, the property owner claims that the firm covered up the mistake by not informing the him of the code changes. If true, these allegations are far more troubling.
When lawyers make mistakes, clients may be able to recover their losses by filing a legal malpractice claim. This case points out the need for acting quickly, however. Wait too long and a jury could find that the victim is partially at fault and reduce the damage award.
If you believe that you have received less than adequate representation by a lawyer, accountant or other professional, call us. We are one of the few law firms willing to pursue legal malpractice cases. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731 (direct). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept in complete confidence.
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Posted by Brian Mahany, Esq.