Whitley v. Chamouris

Decision Date10 January 2003
Docket NumberRecord No. 020338.
Citation574 S.E.2d 251,265 Va. 9
CourtVirginia Supreme Court
PartiesAngela D. WHITLEY v. Thomas L. CHAMOURIS, Jr.

Steven S. Biss, Richmond, for appellant.

Richard Tyler McGrath (Robert E. Kane, Jr.; William L. Jeffries, Jr.; Kane, Jeffries, Gayle, McGrath & Cooper, on brief), for appellee.

Present: All the Justices.

Opinion by Justice ELIZABETH B. LACY.

The sole issue in this appeal is whether expert testimony is required to establish proximate causation in a legal malpractice action.

Thomas L. Chamouris, Jr., engaged Angela D. Whitley to represent him in an action against his former employer. Whitley filed suit in federal court on Chamouris' behalf alleging racial discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference with contract, and defamation. One week before trial, without Chamouris' consent, Whitley agreed to a voluntary dismissal with prejudice of Chamouris' claims of discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with contract. Whitley preserved Chamouris' defamation claim and re-filed it in state court; however Chamouris subsequently fired Whitley and hired a new attorney to prosecute that claim. Chamouris and his new attorney settled the defamation claim for approximately $20,000.

Chamouris sued Whitley for legal malpractice and breach of contract alleging that she dismissed his federal claims without his knowledge or permission. The trial court granted Chamouris' motion to enter judgment in Chamouris' favor on the issues of negligence and breach of contract and to submit only the issues of proximate cause and damages to the jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Chamouris and set damages at $62,000. Whitley filed a motion to set aside the verdict arguing that Chamouris was required to, but did not, present expert testimony on the issue of proximate causation. The trial court denied Whitley's motion and entered judgment on the jury verdict. Whitley appeals this ruling of the trial court.

Whitley asserts that expert testimony was required to inform the jury whether Chamouris would have prevailed in his federal claims. In support of this proposition, Whitley relies on a number of our previous cases in which we have recited that the questions of negligence and proximate causation in a legal malpractice action are decided by the fact finder after considering testimony of expert witnesses. Ripper v. Bain, 253 Va. 197, 202-03, 482 S.E.2d 832, 836 (1997); Heyward & Lee Constr. Co. v. Sands, Anderson, Marks & Miller, 249 Va. 54, 57, 453 S.E.2d...

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19 cases
  • Allen v. Martin, 06CA1768.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • June 12, 2008
    ...plaintiff must present virtually the same evidence that would have been presented in the underlying action." Whitley v. Chamouris, 265 Va. 9, 574 S.E.2d 251, 252 (2003); see also Cook v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 180 Wis.2d 237, 509 N.W.2d 100, 105 (App.1993). Here, in contrast to a civil action tha......
  • Smith v. McLaughlin
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • February 26, 2015
    ...plaintiff is required to prove how the defendant attorney committed malpractice in the underlying proceeding. Whitley v. Chamouris, 265 Va. 9, 11, 574 S.E.2d 251, 252–53 (2003). Additionally, if the alleged negligence occurred in a criminal proceeding, the legal malpractice plaintiff must p......
  • Thurmond v. PRINCE WILLIAM, INC.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • January 10, 2003
  • Alexander v. Turtur & Associates, Inc.
    • United States
    • Texas Supreme Court
    • August 27, 2004
    ...on proximate cause is required when the issue is not one that lay persons are competent to make); but see Whitley v. Chamouris, 265 Va. 9, 574 S.E.2d 251, 252-53 (2003) (expert testimony not needed when malpractice action involves "case within a In another case involving allegations of tria......
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