Verdict against lawyer who gave poor advice is upheld
Joel Williamson sued his workers compensation lawyer, arguing that the lawyer's advice prevented him from receiving a fair award. Williamson had a comp claim pending when he was forced to decide whether to join an additional claim arising out of his coronary artery disease (CAD). His first attorney told him that he needed to join the heart disability claim in his existing claim or it would be barred in the future. The defendant advised him that it was safe to pursue the heart claim later. Eventually, it was determined that pursuing his first claim to conclusion without joining the CAD claim barred him from pursuing that claim in a subsequent workers comp action. Williamson sued the lawyer who steered him wrong.The jury awarded Williamson the comp benefits he lost, over $500,000.00, and the attorney appealed. The attorney claimed that there was uncertainty in the law at the time he advised Williamson that he could safely pursue the CAD case in a second action, rendering his advice immune from liability because it was offered "in good faith with an honest belief" that it was "founded in law."
The so-called "attorney judgment rule" does protect attorneys from negative outcomes and "retrospective analysis" of tactical decisions made in good faith. The Court of Appeals concluded, however, that in the instant case, the Defendant's advice was not protected by the judgment rule because Defendant failed to warn Williamson that he risked a complete loss of his claim. Since the defendant conceded that he "unequivocally disagreed" with the first attorney's advice and dismissed the risks involved in failing to pursue the CAD claim in the first comp proceeding, he cannot avail himself of "uncertainty in the law" as justification for his incorrect advice.