Firm News

8th Cir. – Exceptions to Requirement of Expert Testimony in Legal Mal Case are Extremely Narrow

By Will Jordan

Missouri, like many jurisdictions, recognizes that in a legal malpractice action “an expert witness is generally necessary to tell the jury what the defendant should or should not have done under the particular circumstances.” However, an expert witness is not necessary when the alleged negligence is “clear and palpable” or within the “common knowledge” of the jury. In a recent case decided under Missouri law, the 8th Circuit showed how narrow these exceptions are. In Rosemann v. Sigillito, the client hired a lawyer to help him invest millions of dollars after the lawyer “falsely informed” the client that he was an expert in international investment. At the urging of the lawyer and with the lawyer’s assurance that the loan was “safe” because it was guaranteed by NATO contracts, the client loaned $5 million to a Turkish contractor. Surprise, surprise, the client never saw his money again. Subsequently, the lawyer was convicted of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The client brought a legal malpractice action relating to the lawyer’s assurance that the loan was safe. The 8th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the legal malpractice claim on the basis that the client failed to name an expert witness. The court explained: “Whatever knowledge or skill [the attorney] should have had to prevent the collapse of the loan and loss to [the client] of $5 million is not obvious or common knowledge.”

Rosemann v. Sigillito, No. 14-2089 (8th Cir., May 4, 2015).

Read the full opinion here.