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Court: Massachusetts family may pursue legal malpractice claim

A Massachusetts law firm is back in the news, now that the state's Court of Appeals has ruled that a legal malpractice case against the firm can go forward.

The head of the Gloucester law firm and one of its attorneys have been named in the claim from a man who contends the lawyers failed to settle for adequate compensation when his brother suffered serious injuries in a marine construction accident in 2008.

The man who filed the case did so on behalf of his brother, who suffered a brain injury in an accident as he worked on the reconstruction of a light tower. The tower is 8 miles off the New Jersey coast, but the man was working for a marine construction firm based in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The attorneys had asked for $1 million from the company but settled for $7,500 through the state's Worker Compensation act and another $200,000 under the Jones Act, a federal law that governs work safety issues along the waterways.

The settlement was agreed to in talks with a mediator before a federal administrative judge, and the attorney for the attorneys said the victim signed off on the deal.

After the settlement was finalized, the victim's brother sued for legal malpractice, contending the settlement was too small to compensate for the man's serious injuries. The case was dismissed in Superior Court in 2010.

But now, years later, the Court of Appeals overturned that finding, allowing the legal malpractice claim to proceed. In part, the court's ruling stated that in the hearing before the administrative law judge, the lead attorney advised the victim "that if he did not take the final offer, he would lose at trial."

The ruling also said "this was more than a negligent settlement case, adding the "attorneys intended to cause [the victim] to accept the inadequate federal settlement to disguise their negligence," the ruling reads.

To prove legal malpractice, the plaintiffs must show that an attorney failed to act competently in their representation, as well as prove that the attorney's work financially harmed you, your family or your business.

This will be an interesting case to watch as it moves forward.

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