Filing a lawsuit can be one of the most stressful things you’ll encounter in life. Suppose you lose your case, and you realize it’s because your lawyer or legal team failed to uphold their obligations. In that case, you have the right to pursue a legal malpractice claim – but successfully navigating one can be overwhelming.
Legal malpractice means that your attorney has failed to provide you the “standard of care” required of him, just like medical malpractice against a physician. For example, if an attorney fails to file a lawsuit in time, his/her client’s case might permanently be thrown out, causing extreme financial, physical or emotional damage.
Some believe that losing a case means malpractice was committed, but of course, lawyers are humans too, and capable of innocent mistakes. Certain criteria must be met for a situation to qualify as malpractice.
You must be able to prove that you would have won your case if not for your attorney’s failure to reach that standard of care. Generally, three elements must be proven:
- Your attorney was formally hired to represent you, meaning he/she owed you a duty of care.
- Your attorney breached his/her duty of care obligation (examples can include missing deadlines, acting without your permission and failing to gather proper evidence).
- Your attorney’s actions led to a financial loss.
If you can meet these requirements, legal malpractice law is there to give you a chance to reopen your case and sue your lawyer. However, you must take action within a certain amount of time. This is called the statute of limitations.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations sets the period of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. If the plaintiff misses the deadline, the defendant can invoke the statute of limitations in his defense, and the case will most likely be thrown out.
The statute’s time limit almost always begins when the offending incident occurs (for example, the day the assault is committed in an assault case). The statute exists to allow the plaintiff sufficient time to bring the suit while ensuring the incident stays fresh enough in the involved parties’ minds to maintain accuracy.
The statute of limitations for legal malpractice in Washington, D.C. and Maryland is three years.
Very few situations would allow for an extension of this time period, and not all states honor them. An extension might be granted, for example, if the plaintiff was a minor or legally incompetent at the time of the incident, or if the defendant left the state or tried to cover up his role. But most of the time, if you miss the deadline set by the statute, you are out of luck.
Statutes of limitations are extremely complicated and vary widely from state to state, and type of action. Anyone attempting to file a legal malpractice suit should tread very carefully and consult a lawyer before proceeding. It’s virtually impossible to represent yourself correctly in this type of case.
Paulson & Nace, PLLC has the know-how and experience in legal malpractice to help you reach the best outcome in your case. For more information on legal malpractice claims in the D.C., Maryland or Virginia area, please contact us or call 202-463-1999.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.