Are we responsible for an attorneys mistake?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Are we responsible for an attorneys mistake?

We entered into a rent to own contract on a property years ago, with the taxes and insurance to always be included in the payments.There is 1 year left on the contract. The seller revised the contract in 2007 and 2012. His attorney took it upon himself not to include the taxes and insurance in the payments without disclosing this to either the seller or us, the seller stated he just found this out and we owe him xx thousands of dollars for them. Since the attorney did this without our knowledge, do we owe the seller the money for them?

Asked on March 4, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

It depends on *exactly* what the contract says. If it states that you would pay the taxes and insurance but those amounts were left out of the calculation--i.e. the attorney took the amounts out, but the contract clearly states that you are responsible for these costs--then you have to pay them. That is because a court (i.e. if you were sued for the money) will interpret the contract in a common sense, plain languge way, and will correct mathematical or proofreading, etc. errors. So if the contract plainly indicates you should pay those costs, the fact that the costs are not folded into or reflected in the total amount due will not prevent you from owing them.
BUT if the contract nowhere indicates in plain terms that you owe for the taxes and insurance, you should not owe them. Again, courts interpret contracts in accord with their plain language: if there is no mention of those amounts, a court will not add them in. The seller may be able to bring a malpractice action against his attorney for dropping them out, but that's his concern, not yours.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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