Everyone makes mistakes, and most Florida residents understand when it happens, despite the inconveniences it can bring. When an attorney makes a mistake, however, even a small one, it can be a little more than inconvenient—it can be quite costly.
The American Bar Association recaps a real estate case that should give pause to landowners everywhere. The details begin with a property owner, Boghas Paul Mouradian, who mortgaged land in return for a loan from Michael Antonis, whose attorney in the matter was Joseph Liberati. The attorney prepared the note and mortgage and delivered them to the county recorder. Antonis checked with Liberati several times about the matter, and his attorney repeatedly told him the documents were recorded and everything was in order.
A clerk in the county recorder’s office, however, had misspelled Mouradian’s name and, as a result, the mortgage was not correctly filed. The original landowner, Mouradian, later sold his property without telling the buyer of the mortgage and pocketed the money without paying off the mortgage. When Antonis learned of the sale, Liberati looked into the issue and suggested that Antonis file a lawsuit against the deed recorder.
Antonis tried first to sue the property buyers, who were successful in defending their claim that they did not know of the mortgage, and a title search had failed to turn up the mortgage. Antonis then sued his attorney, who joined the deed recorder and Mouradian’s estate. The appellate court said that Antonis, and by extension his attorney, bore the responsibility of ensuring the deed was recorded correctly.
The court even said that the behavior of the original mortgagor, Mouradian, while fraudulent, would not have been possible if the attorney had not been negligent in his duty to his client. Attorneys should note that, even though a typing error is a small thing in itself, it can have much bigger consequences.
This article, while discussing a specific case, is a general example and is not intended to be legal advice.