South Carolina High Court Allows Malpractice Claim by Insurer Against its Assigned Defense Counsel

Early March, in a narrow, carefully worded opinion, a divided Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that a liability insurer may sue an attorney it retained to defend its insured where the attorney’s breach of its duty to the insured proximately causes the insurer damage. The decision adds South Carolina to the growing list of states that recognize a malpractice cause of action by an insurer against its assigned defense counsel. See Sentry Insurance Co. v. Maybank Law Firm, LLC, — S.E.2d —, 2019 WL 1119977, at…
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Nationwide Certificate of Merit Survey

A growing number of states have enacted some version of an “affidavit of merit” statute in professional malpractice matters. The intended purpose behind these laws is to reduce “unnecessary” or unsupported lawsuits against licensed professionals. In states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and others, plaintiffs in malpractice litigation must certify through an impartial professional in the defendant’s field that there is a fundamental basis for the complaint. While the specifics of the particular statute in each state may differ in terms of scope and application, the importance of compliance cannot be overstated. At the request of many of our readers, we compiled a table of the requirements in each jurisdiction. This TABLE (click here) includes a 50-state survey of affidavit of merit statutes, includes a link to the applicable statute, if any, and summarizes the application of each law.
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Tripartite Relationship Put to the Test

The so-called "tripartite" relationship exists when an insurer retains defense counsel to represent the interests of the insured. Against this backdrop, it is relatively uncommon for an insurer to maintain a successful claim against defense counsel. In the majority of states, direct malpractice claims by an insurer are disfavored. The theory behind these decisions stems from the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship and a hesitation to interfere with defense counsel’s duty to the insured in the tripartite scenario. Accordingly, few claims of this nature succeed. A recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court is no exception.
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