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Legal Malpractice and Foreign Laws in Domestic Cases

Fuzzy Maiava TUNA, Plaintiff-Appellant v. Floyd A. WISNER, Alexandra M. Wisner, and Wisner Law Firm, P.C., Defendant-Appellees

Plaintiff, Fuzzy Maiava Tuna (Tuna), filed a legal malpractice claim against his attorneys and their firm the Wisner Law Firm (Wisner) based on their representation of him in a personal injury lawsuit against an aircraft manufacturer and operator. The legal malpractice case is based on Tuna’s claim that an appeal would have been successful had Wisner not dismissed it.

Details of the Underlying Case

Tuna is a citizen of New Zealand, where the Accident Compensation Act bars proceedings for damages for personal injury. Specifically, the Act allows citizens to be reimbursed for accidents through a government entity without having to prove fault, but it also bars an injured person from seeking compensatory damages in tort actions.

Wisner represented Tuna in his personal injury lawsuit in Cook County, Illinois, against companies believed to be responsible for a plane accident that caused injuries to Tuna. The plane did not crash, but multiple in-air pitches toward the ground caused Tuna to be thrown around the plane’s cabin. That lawsuit was dismissed because the circuit court determined New Zealand’s ban on tort claims applied.

Wisner appealed that decision on behalf of Tuna then dismissed the appeal in an effort to bring the claim back to circuit court, which was unsuccessful. Tuna was left with an adverse ruling that he couldn’t appeal. This perceived lawyer negligence is the basis for his legal malpractice claim.

Choice-of-Law Analysis

If a lawsuit involving injury damages is filed in Illinois, and there is a question as to which jurisdiction’s laws should apply, the court uses the Illinois choice-of-law analysis. The first step is deciding if an actual conflict between Illinois law and the other jurisdiction’s law exists. If a conflict is present, and it would impact the outcome of the lawsuit, then the second step is for the court to decide which set of laws to apply.

The trial court in Tuna’s legal malpractice claim decided that even if plaintiff’s appeal of his injury claim had not been dismissed, it would not have been successful. New Zealand law was the governing law in the underlying issue of personal injury damages. Tuna appealed this legal malpractice decision based on his belief that the trial court did not conduct an appropriate choice-of-law analysis, but he only raised a question with the first step – whether a conflict between Illinois and New Zealand laws exists.

The appeals court in Tuna’s legal malpractice appeal affirmed the circuit court’s decision. A conflict of laws did exist between Illinois and New Zealand in the underlying injury case.