The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court’s decision, dismissing a legal malpractice action on summary judgment, because the statute of limitation had expired on the claim. In Graora v Fletcher Tilton and Whipple, an individual, who was injured in a motor vehicle accident, hired a law firm to represent him in a personal injury action against the other driver.
Upon the law firm’s recommendation, the client agreed to settle the case for $15,000.00. Three years and eight months after the settlement, the client brought a legal malpractice suit, alleged that the firm had undervalued his claim and failed to inform him of the possibility of recovering a judgment in excess of the $20,000.00 policy limits of the other driver’s insurance policy. The law firm successfully moved for summary judgment on the basis that the suit was barred by the three year statute of limitations for legal negligence claims, under G.L. c. 260 § 4.
The client appealed, arguing that the statute had been tolled under the so-called “discovery rule”, because he did not know that he had an action until shortly before filing his complaint. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that there was no evidence on the record suggesting that the client did not know, or reasonably should not have known, that he had allegedly suffered harm at the time of the settlement. Because the lawsuit was not filed within three years of that date, it was time barred. Thus, the Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the law firm.
Decision: Graora v Fletcher Tilton and Whipple
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