The Appellate Group

Nielsen v. LeBaron

Nielsen v. LeBaron, 2023 UT App 29 (Christiansen Forster, J.)

Legal Malpractice

Kylie Nelsen, an injured minor, brought a legal malpractice claim against her attorney and his law firm after her attorney deposited her settlement money into her parents’ account instead of her trust account and her father absconded with her money. The district court found that, based on a safe harbor provision in the Utah Uniform Probate Code, that Kylie could not establish that her lawyer owed her a duty to safeguard funds she received from a settlement and dismissed the case. The Utah court of Appeals reversed and remand, holding:

  • The district court erred when it improperly focused its duty analysis on facts more appropriately applied to a breach analysis. In all attorney-client relationships, an attorney owes a general “duty to act with reasonable diligence.” A “safe harbor” provision might support a conclusion that an attorney has not breached a duty to a client, but it cannot negate an attorney’s common law duty of reasonable diligence to his client.
  • Practice tip: Although Kylie did not explicitly refer to rule 1.15 of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, the court of appeals held that the issue was preserved because “the content of the rule 1.15 argument has always been in Kylie’s brief.”

Read the full court opinion