TX: Underlying asbestosis personal injury clam; statute of limitations
Student Contributor: Jean Moss Sullivan*
Facts: Plaintiff was diagnosed on April 24, 1983 with asbetosis and retained the defendant lawyers to sue asbestos manufacturers for plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff’s statute of limitations for the asbestos injuries expired on April 24, 1985. Lawyers did not file the suit until May 20, 1985. The federal district court entered judgment for the asbestos manufacturers because the plaintiff’s claim was filed after the 2-year statute of limitations.
Plaintiff sued Lawyers for breaches of express and implied warranties under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and for negligence. Lawyers moved for summary judgment because the plaintiff’s suit was filed after the two-year statute of limitations for his legal malpractice claim. The plaintiff then pled the discovery rule but the trial court granted Lawyers’ motion to strike the amended petition as untimely. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Lawyers. The court of appeals affirmed the summary judgment, holding that when the plaintiff fails to timely plead the discovery rule, the legal injury rule applies in determining when a negligence cause of action accrues and when the statute of limitations begins to run. The plaintiff’s legal injury by the defendants occurred on April 24, 1985, the date the statute of limitations ran in the underlying case.
Issue: Whether the plaintiff’s claims against the defendants begin to toll before all of the appeals for the underlying claim are exhausted.
Ruling: When an attorney allegedly commits litigation malpractice, the court held that the statute of limitations does not begin tolling until all appeals of the underlying claim are exhausted.
Lesson: A plaintiff may wait to file suit for a legal malpractice claim until all appeals for the underlying claim have been exhausted. A plaintiff is able to consider the final outcome of the underlying claim before filing suit for legal practice. If the discovery rule applies, it is necessary to plead it in a timely fashion. Malpractice litigators should be aware of the burdens in asserting limitations defenses and relying on discovery and other tolling rules.
Jean Moss Sullivan is a third year student at Texas Tech University Law School and is a J.D. Candidate for May 2010. She received her B.A. in Religion from Southwestern University in 2007.