West Let Off the Hook on Web Malpractice Claim
(CN) - A law firm cannot sue Thomson West for professional negligence because state law does not recognize such claims against computer consultants, a federal judge ruled.
Ferris & Salter, a Michigan law firm, claimed that Findlaw, the website-development service operated by Thomson West, took over a year to repair a function that it destroyed.
The firm says it lost several clients and thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees because Findlaw workers destroyed the link that directs website inquiries to the firm's email accounts. The error allegedly left 730 emails in limbo between November 2008 and February 2010.
Ferris & Salter's first attempt at suing Findlaw failed, with a Michigan federal judge ruling that the case was not filed in the proper forum and that neither Michigan nor Minnesota law provides a cause of action for computer technician negligence.
The firm then sued FindLaw in Minnesota, this time for alleged professional negligence and breach of contract, but U.S. District Judge John Tunheim made the same finding as to computer technician malpractice.
"The issue is whether Minnesota law recognizes a malpractice claim against computer consultants," Tunheim wrote. "It appears that no Minnesota court has directly addressed the question, and F&S concedes that it is one of first impression. Courts interpreting New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania law have all concluded that computer consultants are not subject to malpractice suits, however, and F&S offers no persuasive reason why the Minnesota Supreme Court would reach a different conclusion."
Citing Hospital Computer Systems v. Staten Island Hospital, a 1992 decision from New Jersey federal court, Tunheim noted that: "Society imposes on professionals a higher standard of care than non-professionals, as evidenced by state licensing requirements or standards promulgated by professional organizations. This heightened code of ethics engenders trust in professionals beyond the marketplace norm, and '[w]hen no such higher code of ethics binds a person, such trust in unwarranted.' In these cases, only duties created by contracts or under ordinary tort principles are applicable.
"F&S offers no indication that Minnesota has imposed upon computer consultants a heightened standard of care," Tunheim continued. "For example, Minnesota statutes governing licensing and continuing education requirements for certain professionals that establish rules applicable to malpractice claims do not mention providers of computer-related services."
West is headquartered in Eagan, Minn. The complaint uses the Thomson Reuters company's original name West Publishing.