Personal Injury

Personal Injury

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Personal injury defense lawyers face rise in malpractice claims

(This article was originally published in Lawyers Weekly USA, another Dolan Media publication).

Several years ago, Benjamin H. Hill III defended a malpractice claim lodged against a Florida personal injury defense lawyer by the insurance company that had hired him.

Hill, an attorney in Tampa, Fla., successfully argued that there was no direct attorney-client relationship between the defense lawyer and the insurance carrier, and the claim was dismissed.

Today, however, Hill might have a harder time getting the same result.

In a dramatic change over the past decade, many states now allow insurance companies to sue the lawyers they hire to protect them from payouts in personal injury suits.

And increasingly, insurers unhappy with the legal work done by defense lawyers are suing their own outside counsels for malpractice.

According to an American Bar Association study released last summer, malpractice claims against personal injury defense lawyers increased 6 percent from 1999 to 2003 - the largest increase in any practice area. Nearly 10 percent of all malpractice claims in 2003 were filed against personal injury defense lawyers.

Personal injury-defense now ranks third in malpractice claims, behind top-ranked personal injury-plaintiff and real estate. Family law and trusts and estates rank fourth and fifth, respectively.

It's not a staggering number, but it's about the only [practice] area in which we saw an increase, said Hill, who chaired the ABA committee that produced the report.

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