Arbitration in the Legal Malpractice Context

In December, the Texas Supreme Court handed down an important arbitration decision in the context of a legal malpractice case. In Chambers v O’Quinn, 183 former clients sued John O’Quinn in 1999 alleging his firm committed legal malpractice in the representation and settlement of their toxic tort claims. Attorney O’Quinn’s fee contract contained an arbitration agreement. Upon O’Quinn’s motion, the trial court ordered that the parties go to arbitration, and the plaintiffs filed a mandamus appeal. That appeal was denied, and the parties proceeded to arbitration, where O’Quinn prevailed.

After the arbitration, the plaintiffs filed suit to vacate the arbitrator’s award. The trial court affirmed the arbitration award, and the plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the appellate court dismissed the claim saying that it did not have jurisdiction. The Supreme Court disagreed. Noting that orders compelling arbitration can be reviewed after final judgment, the Supreme Court found that the courts did have jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ post-arbitration appeal of the order to go to arbitration, and the Court remanded the case.

This case gives another life to those fighting arbitration awards. And for those that advocate arbitration as a quick and easy way to resolve disputes, please remember this almost decade-long saga.

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