15 March 2012
Melbourne law firm Goddard Elliott has avoided paying $675k to a former client which the firm negligently advised, thanks to an old law which offers lawyers immunity from being sued.

Goddard Elliott, operating "in the hub of the Glen Waverley Shopping Centre" according its website, advised Vietnam veteran Paul Fritsch on his divorce proceedings. Fritsch, who is suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, was in dispute with his wife over a pot of $4.3m. Of which he ended up with less than a third, $1.3m, according to a Herald Sun report.

Fritsch sued and the Victorian Supreme Court's Justice Bell found in his favour, ruling that failures by Goddard Elliott had culminated in a settlement that was very favourable to his ex-wife. Justice Bell slammed the firm for taking instructions from a client it knew did not have the mental capacity to give them. Justice Bell ruled that Fritsch should have received $2.3m and, "with appropriate subtractions", he had lost out on a total of $675k.

    The Victorian Supreme Court yesterday (an artist's impression)

But despite the ruling of negligence and a finding that Fritsch was due substantial compensation from Goddard Elliott, the firm will be coughing up precisely nothing. In fact it is Fritsch who must stump up $68k to cover the the firm's legal costs. All thanks to an archaic law which provides advocates' immunity to lawyers engaged in litigation. Unfortunately for Fritsch, Australia is the last country in the world to retain this justice-defying law.

Justice Bell said: "Goddard Elliott is not liable to pay damages for the loss its negligence caused to Mr Fritsch, a conclusion to which I am driven and find deeply troubling". Fritsch's new legal team say they may take the case to the Victorian Court of Appeal.
 
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