Can You Sue for Legal Malpractice Without Being Exonerated ?
In the Peeler v. Hughes & Luce, 909 S.W.2d 494 (Tex. 1995) case, Peeler complained that, before she pled guilty, her attorney did not tell her about the prosecutor's offer of transactional immunity. Id. at 496.
She sued her attorney for DTPA violations, legal malpractice, breach of contract, and breach of warranty. Id.
Generally, to recover on a claim of legal malpractice, a plaintiff must prove that:
(1) the attorney owed the plaintiff a duty;
(2) the attorney breached that duty;
(3) the breach proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries;
(4) damages resulted. Id.
To recover either in negligence or under the DTPA, a plaintiff must prove causation. Id. at 498.
The court in Peeler held that "plaintiffs who have been convicted of a criminal offense may negate the sole proximate cause bar to their claim for legal malpractice in connection with that conviction only if they have been exonerated on direct appeal, through post-conviction relief, or otherwise." Peeler, 909 S.W.2d at 497-98.
As a matter of law, the illegal conduct, not counsel's negligence, is the cause in fact of any injuries flowing from the conviction, unless the conviction has been overturned. Id. at 498.
Because Peeler had not been exonerated, the court held as a matter of law that her illegal acts remained the "sole proximate and producing causes" of her indictment and conviction. Id.