LEGAL NEGLIGENCE: STEWART V. BRANHAM (COA 3/9/2007)

STEWART V. BRANHAM
TORTS: Legal Negligence (Does attorney-client relationship extend to minor child as either infant or ward)
2006-CA-000322
PUBLISHED: REVERSING AND REMANDING; TAYLOR
DATE RENDERED: 3/9/2007

Appellant appeals TC’s grant of Summary Judgment to Attorneys Ira Branham and Miller Kent Carter dismissing her legal malpractice claims against them. Gary Stewart, a minor at the time, was severely injured in an auto accident in 1997 while his brother was killed. Stewart’s mother retained Branham to pursue the tortfeasor and suit was filed by the mother as next friend of Stewart. Thereafter, the mother filed an action in Pike District Court seeking appointment as legal guardian for Stewart, which was done. Upon appointment, the mother settled all claims against the tortfeasor for $1.3 million, $650,000 of which was allocated to Stewart and the remainder to his brother. The net proceeds from the settlement were paid to the mother as legal guardian for Stewart. In 2000, Stewart married Appellant who was later appointed his legal guardian in 2003 by an Arkansas court. Appellant then filed suit against Appellees alleging legal malpractice and a breach of the fiduciary duties owed to Stewart. Appellees denied having an attorney-client relationship with Stewart, and sought Summary Judgment on the theory that Appellant had no standing to maintain the lawsuit as a result. The TC agreed and granted the motion.

The COA started by noting that an attorney may be liable to a third party if that party was intended to benefit from the attorney’s performance. The COA listed the 2 issues before it as follows: 1) whether an attorney-client relationship exists between an attorney and an infant when the infant’s next friend pursues legal action on his/her behalf; and 2) whether an attorney-client relationship exists between an attorney and a ward when the ward’s court-appointed legal guardian pursues legal action on his/her behalf. On both counts, the COA held that an attorney-client relationship does exist since in the first scenario, the next friend is merely a nominal party representing the interests of the true litigant (the infant) while in the second scenario the guardian merely preserves the interests of the ward who is the real party in interest. Thus, the COA reversed the TC’s entry of Summary Judgment and sent the case back for further proceedings.

Digested by Chad Kessinger 

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One thought on “LEGAL NEGLIGENCE: STEWART V. BRANHAM (COA 3/9/2007)

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