Illinois Court Limits Awards in Legal Malpractice Cases

In a 4-3 decision that aids lawyers accused of malpractice, the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday limited the type of damages that clients can receive from attorneys who botch a lawsuit.

In a first-of-its-kind case in Illinois, the court ruled that clients may sue their lawyers for the standard, compensatory damages they would have won if their lawsuit had been properly brought.

But writing for the majority, Justice Lloyd Karmeier said clients could not sue their lawyers for lost punitive damages, which juries sometimes award to punish defendants for intentional misconduct.

Lawyers should pay for their negligence, but to hold them responsible for the intentional misconduct of someone else "tears the concept of punitive damages from its doctrinal moorings," Karmeier wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Charles Freeman called the result a "gross injustice."

Details here from the Chicago Tribune. The Court's opinion is here.