Deadlines play an important role in legal proceedings. A failure to meet certain deadlines can mean a lost opportunity to hold a party accountable for wrongdoing. Statutes of limitations and courts both hold attorneys to strict deadlines when it comes to filing paperwork on time. A failure to do so can mean their client misses the chance to bring their case to court. In these cases, that client may have a legal malpractice claim against the attorney.
How do deadlines lead to malpractice?
A recent case provides an example of two different ways deadlines can impact a legal malpractice case. In the case the first deadline involves the need to file a claim for discrimination. A worker hired an attorney to help build a lawsuit against his employer for workplace discrimination. The attorney failed to file the suit before the statute of limitations, or time limit, ran out. As a result, the client missed the deadline to file suit against the employer.
This does not mean the client is out of options. The client could now potentially hold his former attorney liable through a legal malpractice claim — and that is exactly what he is doing. He has filed suit against the attorney for malpractice and asked for $2 million in damages.
The next move is where the plot thickens. The former attorney claims that the client missed the deadline for the legal malpractice case. The former attorney states the statute of limitations for the client began at the time of the error, the missed deadline for the discrimination claim against the employer. The court disagreed.
Ultimately, the court decided the statute of limitations began to toll when the client became aware of the error.
Why is this distinction important?
When the statute of limitations begins impacts the deadline. In this case, it would have impacted whether the case could move forward or not. Had the court awarded the tolling date, or starting date, at the time of the error the former client would have missed the filing deadline and the case would fail. Since the court decided the tolling date was the time the client became aware of the error the case can move forward and the client has the possibility of holding the former attorney liable through the legal malpractice claim.