Evidence of No Proximate Cause Supported Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice Claim

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On February 22, 2022, the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss Jason Garrett’s (“Plaintiff”) legal malpractice suit under section 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9).  Garrett v. Ackerman, 2022 IL App (4th) 210124-U, ¶ 2.  The Court concluded that proof negating proximate cause could be used as an affirmative matter to dismiss the case.

Plaintiff retained attorney James Ackerman (“Defendant”) to represent him in proceedings under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (“Act”). Id. ¶ 5.  Plaintiff, through counsel, filed two applications for worker’s compensation against his employer, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Inc. (“Liberty Mutual”) alleging lower back pain.  Id.  The first application was filed in 2014 and the second was filed in 2015.  Both applications claimed the lower back pain was a result of an injury that occurred on August 29, 2013.  Id.  The claims proceeded to arbitration, where the arbitrator held that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof.  Id.  ¶ 34.  “To obtain compensation under the Act, a claimant bears the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he has suffered a disabling injury which arose out of and in the course of his employment.”  Id.  ¶ 54 (citing Sisbro, Inc. v. Industrial Comm’n, 207 Ill. 2d 193, 203 (2003)).  “To arise ‘in the course of employment,’ an injury ‘generally must occur within the time and space boundaries of the employment.’”  Id.  Plaintiff then sought review from the Worker’s Compensation Commission (“Commission”), which also agreed Plaintiff failed to meet his burden. Id.  ¶ 35-37. 
Plaintiff next sought review of the Commission’s decision in the circuit court of Sangamon County, Illinois.  Id. ¶ 38. 

The circuit court upheld the Commission’s decision finding that the decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Id.  ¶ 39.  Prior to reaching the merits of Plaintiff’s claim, the court noted several deficiencies in Plaintiff’s appellant’s brief and noted that the brief failed to comply with the requirements of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h).  Id.  Given these shortcomings, the appeal was “subject to dismissal.”  Rather than dismissing the appeal, however, the court elected to decide the case based on the decisions of the arbitrator and Commission as well as Liberty Mutual’s filing while disregarding the portions of Plaintiff’s brief that did not comply with Illinois rules.  Id. 

In September 2019, Plaintiff filed a legal malpractice case against Defendant alleging Defendant negligently breached his duty of care by failing to comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h).  Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint under section 2-619(a)(9), arguing that the evidence in the record was an affirmative matter that defeated Plaintiff’s claim because it proved that Defendant’s alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injury.  Id.  ¶ 53.  The Appellate Court agreed and upheld the trial court’s dismissal.  In support of its ruling, the Court asserted:  “[P]laintiff cannot establish that he would have been successful in his appeal of the Commission’s decision absent defendant’s alleged negligent preparation of his appellant’s brief.”  Id.  ¶ 65.  Unable to prove but for Defendant’s negligence, Plaintiff would have prevailed in the underlying dispute, Plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim was properly dismissed.

Jason Garrett v. James Ackerman, 2022 IL App (4th) 210124-U

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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