Berkenfeld v. Lenet (P)

Because of Maryland’s high bar for taking questions of contributory negligence, the district court erred in finding that the plaintiffs were barred from recovery for their financial advisors’ alleged negligence.

The plaintiffs’ evidence offers a reasonable basis to determine that they justifiably relied on the defendants’ advice, resulting in less favorable tax distribution options on inherited annuities. The defendants represented that the plaintiffs’ financial advisor specialized in estate and trust planning. The record also shows that he’d served as the decedent’s personal financial advisor for several years prior to her death and that each plaintiff relied upon him for advice on financial matters; he actively sought to provide such advice, perhaps to advance his professional interests.

Just as a reasonable factfinder could find that a client who has been advised by a lawyer as to a particular legal issue is not contributorily negligent by failing to seek the advice of a second lawyer or by failing to read case law himself, so too a reasonable factfinder could find here that the plaintiffs acted reasonably in failing to seek a second opinion and in failing to conduct independent research as to their distribution options.

Because there was room for difference of opinion as to whether the plaintiffs were contributorily negligent, the district court improperly granted summary judgment for the defendants.

Reversed and remanded.

Berkenfeld v. Lenet (P), No. 18-1106, Apr. 8, 2019. 4th Cir. (Wynn) from DMD at Baltimore (Xinis).

Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published

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