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Second District upholds $80,000 jury verdict against retired lawyer

By Jonathan Bilyk | Nov 7, 2013

A retired Villa Park lawyer will need to pay a former client $80,000 after his errors in a real estate deal scuttled a different sale his client was trying to make and potentially cost him more than $100,000 in the process, an appeals panel held.

In an unpublished order filed last month, the Second District Appellate Court affirmed a DuPage County jury verdict in favor of plaintiff Dennis Moore, who sued his former lawyer, Lewis John Craft, for malpractice.

Craft has since voluntarily retired from the practice of law, according to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission's website that shows 2012 as the last year he registered.

Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok delivered the court’s order. Justices Robert D. McLaren and Robert B. Spence concurred.

The case came to the appellate court following the jury’s verdict in a trial presided over by DuPage County Circuit Court Judge Dorothy French Mallen.

The case centered on a botched real estate transaction in 2005.

At that time, Moore was seeking to sell both sections of a lot he had divided. One of the divided lots was “improved” – which in this case, meant it had a house built on it. The other lot was vacant.

Moore intended to sell the improved lot first, so as to maintain its value. He was concerned someone might buy the vacant lot, begin building something, and make more difficult the task of selling the improved lot.

He reached a purchase agreement with a couple for the improved lot in August 2005 and hired Craft to help him complete the sale and convey the property.

At closing, however, Craft conveyed both the improved and vacant lot to the buyers of the improved lot, and did not communicate his error to his client.

Following that sale, Moore then said he spoke with a neighbor, who wished to purchase the vacant lot to help him facilitate a plan to demolish his existing house and build a new one.

Moore then contacted Craft to ask why he had not yet received the deed to the vacant lot. Craft, according to the appellate court order, told Moore that “he would look into” the matter, but never replied further to Moore.

In early 2006, Moore learned that someone else had paid the property tax on the vacant lot, causing him to realize “that he probably no longer owned the property.”

Moore filed suit in 2007, and regained ownership of the vacant lot in 2012 in a settlement deal with the couple to whom he had intended to sell the improved lot to.

In the meantime, the neighbor to whom Moore had desired to sell the vacant lot had moved away and was no longer interested in the land.

Moore then filed suit against Craft, asserting that his former attorney owed him damages for the loss in the property’s value during the time that he did not own it.

At trial, appraisers put on the stand by both Moore and Craft agreed that the property had likely lost about $100,000 in value from 2005 to 2012.

The jury sided with Moore, and awarded him $80,000.

Craft appealed, arguing, among other contentions, that the jury erred in finding that he was liable for the property’s lost value.

He claimed that Moore’s assertions were “too speculative,” that he did not actually have a sale lined up, and the jury award had been a “compromise,” and thus should be rejected.

The appellate court disagreed, rejecting each of the assertions undergirding Craft’s appeal.

On behalf of the panel, Seminara-Schostok wrote, “Here, the jury’s award of $80,000 bore a reasonable relationship to the evidence presented at trial.”

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