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Legal malpractice, negligence, breach of contract and tolling

There are a variety of reasons that can lead to a legal malpractice claim. Two common examples include negligent legal representation and breach of contract. Although both can result in serious economic damages, the victim must file a claim before a given time period.

How is the time tolled in legal malpractice claims?

There is some confusion over when the time limit, or tolling period, starts when it comes to matters involving economic loss resulting from these two types of legal malpractice claims. Although the matter is far from resolved, two cases that provide guidance include:

  • Coleman v. Duane Morris. This case essentially states that when an attorney agrees to represent a client for a fee, they are under the purview of contract law — which often leads to a four-year statute of limitations. It is important to note that although this case was headed to the Supreme Court of the United States to resolve the dispute, it was settled before hand and the justices did not provide additional guidance.
  • Johnstone v. Raffaele. In this case, the court basically clarified that the plaintiff cannot switch a breach of contract claim into a tort claim and also limited this type of legal malpractice claim to a two-year negligence cause of action. It is important to note that this case is unpublished, and thus generally not precedential.

As noted above, the issue continues to evolve. Those who find themselves dealing with a dispute over the tolling process may find the final answer one determined by a jury. An attorney experienced in these issues can provide additional guidance after reviewing the details unique to a specific claim.