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Breach of Fiduciary Duty

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A fiduciary duty is an obligation to act in the best interest of someone else. Many professionals owe fiduciary duties to other parties. An attorney has a duty to act in the best interests of their clients. This fiduciary relationship exists whenever special trust and confidence are involved, or a reliance on the person to exercise her expertise or discretion on behalf of someone else.

An attorney acting as a fiduciary on behalf of their client is held to a very high standard of honesty and full disclosure. They may not obtain any personal benefit at the expense of their client. The attorney is required by law to use her best efforts on the client’s behalf and must exercise all of their skill, diligence, and care working for the client.

If your attorney does not act in your best interests, or fails to use all of her skill, diligence, and care on your behalf, then she has breached her fiduciary duty to you. If this happens you can probably sue your attorney for legal malpractice. This violation of fiduciary duty can take many forms: if you mention a valuable piece of property or a lucrative business opportunity to your lawyer, and she buys it or takes advantage of it, this is not acting in your best interests. An attorney may try to take a portion of your estate for herself, or may simply be negligent and careless in how she handles your case. If so, your lawyer may have committed legal malpractice and could be liable to you for damages.

Business partners in a partnership owe each other a fiduciary duty. Indeed, co-partners owe each other the highest duty of loyalty and care. If you have entered into a general partnership as a business association, your partners owe you these duties, and if they breach them, then they are liable to you. A business partner has a duty, for example, to disclose any and all business opportunities related to the partnership. If you are a partner in a restaurant business, and one of your partners learns of a new commercial space, buys it, and opens his own new restaurant there without disclosing the opportunity to you and to the partnership, then that partner has breached his fiduciary duty to you. Partners must also perform their duties related to the partnership with care and diligence.

Similarly, some people in corporations are subject to fiduciary duties of loyalty and care. The board of directors of a corporation owes duties of care and loyalty to the corporation itself, and also to the shareholders. Directors must act in the best interest of the corporation and the shareholders; otherwise, they breach their fiduciary duties. As with a partnership, a classic example of a violation of the duty of loyalty is when a director learns of an opportunity that rightfully belongs to the corporation and she takes it for herself, personally benefitting from it.

Is this confusing? It’s not always black and white when determining if a breach of fiduciary duty under Illinois laws has occurred. If you have questions or would like a referral to an attorney who has a track record of success with Illinois breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits please do not hesitate to contact us.