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Lucas v. Hamm

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Brief Fact Summary. Intended beneficiaries of a will drafted by Defendant allege that its negligent drafting deprived them of a substantial benefit.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Lawyers drafting documents on behalf of a testator owe a duty of care to the intended beneficiaries as well as the testator.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

As in Biakanja, one of the main purposes which the transaction between defendant and the testator intended to accomplish was to provide for the transfer of property to plaintiffs; the damage to plaintiffs in the event of invalidity of the bequest was clearly foreseeable; it became certain, upon the death of the testator without change of the will, that plaintiffs would have received the intended benefits but for the asserted negligence of defendant; and if persons such as plaintiffs are not permitted to recover for the loss resulting from negligence of the draftsman, no one would be able to do so and the policy of preventing future harm would be impaired.

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Facts. Plaintiffs, intended beneficiaries of the will of Eugene Emmick, brought a malpractice action against Defendant, the law firm L.S. Hamm, for preparing a will with a provision that was held to violationg the Rule Against Perpetuities. This alleged negligence deprived them of the proceeds from a residual trust, and they brought a malpractice action against Defendant which was dismissed by the lower court. Plaintiffs now appeal.

May a lawyer’s duty of care extend to nonclient beneficiaries of a client’s will?

Should a lawyer be liable for a reasonable mistake of law regarding the Rule Against Perpetuities in California?

Held. Although Defendant had a duty to the intended beneficiaries as well as the client, but he should not be liable for his reasonable mistake regarding the Rule Against Perpetuities.
Lack of privity should not bar Plaintiffs’ claim against Defendant under these circumstances. This is not an undue burden on attorneys, especially considering that a contrary conclusion would force innocent beneficiaries to bear the loss of an attorney’s negligence.

No. Any reasonable attorney could have made the same mistake, as this is one of the most confusing and hazardous areas of California law.

Discussion. This was the first case ever to depart from the general rule that only a client may assert a malpractice claim against a lawyer. Most jurisdictions would now allow an action on these facts.

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