Once you discover that your former attorney committed malpractice in their representation of you, you might be eager to take action to set things right. At the same time, you could be coming off a long lawsuit or other legal proceeding and feeling a little tired of dealing with the law. Perhaps you are tempted to wait a while before exploring a legal malpractice suit.
It’s understandable if you are too burned out or upset about how your lawyer mistreated you. But if you delay too long, you will end up with no compensation or justice.
Every state has a statute of limitations attached to its legal malpractice laws. A statute of limitations is essentially a time limit on civil lawsuits. A potential plaintiff has a certain length of time to file a malpractice lawsuit in that state, and if no legal action is taken by the set date, any subsequent lawsuit will be thrown out of court. This is true regardless of the merits of the claim. You could have evidence of clear-cut legal negligence by your former attorney, but it won’t matter.
How long do I have?
The statute of limitations deadline differs from state to state. For example, in Missouri, plaintiffs have five years from the date “the damage resulting therefrom is sustained and is capable of ascertainment” — in other words, the day you realize you were harmed by your lawyer’s negligence (or reasonably should have found out). But in Massachusetts, the statute of limitation is only three years.
When does the statute of limitations clock start ticking?
Just when the clock starts ticking can be a source of controversy. Recently, a Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled that a legal malpractice suit was time-barred because it began more than three years after the plaintiff’s attorneys committed the allegedly negligent actions — not three years after the representation ended, as the lawsuit contended.
The years can go by faster than you expect. Hesitating could cost you thousands of dollars (or more) in damages. If you are wondering if a legal malpractice lawsuit is worth it in your case, a discussion with an attorney who practices in this area can help you reach a decision.