A Michigan appellate court has affirmed summary judgment in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice case. In Hull v. Steinberg.doc, a husband and wife suffered serious personal injuries when their vehicle was stuck by tractor trailer. The couple retained an attorney to bring an action against the truck driver.
The husband and wife were treated for their injuries, including undergoing minor surgeries. They were both able to return to work within several weeks of the accident. The attorney filed a complaint approximately nine months after the accident. The truck driver moved for summary judgment. Under Michigan law, in a personal injury action plaintiffs must show that their injuries affect their “general ability to lead normal lives”. The trial court found that the couple had failed to meet this standard and therefore granted the truck driver’s motion.
Over the next two years, the couple’s injuries became worse. Their physician advised them that their injuries would likely be lifelong, requiring ongoing care. The couple notified their attorney, who then filed a motion for relief from judgment. However, the court denied the motion, ruling that the motion was not timely, as it had not been filed within one year of the original dismissal.
The couple then sued their attorney, claiming that it was negligent for him to have filed the complaint within nine months of the accident, not permitting the clients’ injuries to develop. The attorney successfully moved to dismiss the complaint and the clients appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the dismissal, finding that it was not unreasonable for the attorney to file the action within nine months of the accident. The court relied on the fact that most injuries improve over time, and therefore, filing the complaint and conducting discovery soon after the accident was likely the best opportunity to demonstrate that the clients had suffered serious injuries from the accident and were seriously impaired. The attorney’s conduct thus did not amount to malpractice.
Decision: Hull v. Steinberg