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Procedural Posture

Defendant client appealed a judgment from the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which, in a jury trial, awarded plaintiff attorney damages for breach of the parties’ retainer agreement.

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Overview

After agreeing to represent the client in an employment discrimination suit, the attorney withdrew at the beginning of trial. The client could not find another attorney to represent her, and the suit was dismissed. The complaint for breach of the retainer agreement cited two paragraphs providing for a combined hourly and contingency based rate and for costs. The attorney moved during trial to amend the complaint to conform to proof, seeking a much larger amount of damages based on a different paragraph, under which he could recover for all time spent if he withdrew for good cause. The trial court granted the motion over the objection of the client, whose defense was that she had paid the amounts required by the two originally cited paragraphs. The court held that the trial court abused its discretion under Code Civ. Proc., §§ 469, 473, subd. (a)(1), by permitting the amendment. The attorney did not show good cause for the delay, the amendment introduced new and substantially different issues into the case, and significant prejudice resulted from both the increase in damages and the client’s lack of opportunity to timely investigate and respond to the new theory of liability.

Outcome

The court reversed and remanded for a new trial.