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Davis v. Damrell

119 Cal. App. 3d 883 (1981)

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Davis v. Damrell

California Court of Appeal

119 Cal. App. 3d 883 (1981)

Facts

In 1970, Stella Davis (plaintiff) hired Frank Damrell (defendant), a former California Supreme Court judge, to represent Davis in her divorce. Damrell had joined the bar 35 years earlier and was an expert in pension law. Davis’s husband held a vested right to a military pension that would begin paying benefits upon his retirement. At that time, the law concerning whether pensions were a marital asset was unsettled. Damrell advised Davis that in California, a military pension was not part of the community property to be distributed in the divorce, and therefore Davis’s divorce settlement excluded the pension. In 1974, the California Supreme Court held that retirement benefits, including military pensions, were community property to be distributed during a divorce, a holding that was described as a 180-degree shift in the law. In 1975, the California Supreme Court held that for the error-in-judgment rule to shield lawyers from claims of professional negligence, attorneys must exercise informed judgment. Davis sued Damrell on the grounds of professional negligence for failing to advise Davis that the law concerning pensions as a marital asset was not settled because, Davis argued, she might have litigated the matter and won. Davis presented expert testimony that Damrell did not meet the minimum standards in telling Davis that the law was settled. The trial court awarded summary judgment to Damrell, and Davis appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Racanelli, J.)

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