Wednesday, November 7, 2007
A lawyer in Maryland was retained to prosecute a personal injury case by the victim of a rear-end collision. Three years after being retained, he filed the case two days before the statute of limitations ran: "what, if any, effort [the attorney] made on behalf of [the client] in the interval between his having been retained, and the filing of the complaint, is not clear from the record." The lawyer neglected the case and lied to the client, failing to advise her that he had been indefinitely suspended and that her case had been dismissed with prejudice. She learned of the suspension when she filed an ethics complaint and learned of the dismissal by reviewing the court file.
She sued the lawyer and obtained (an uncollected) judgment. She sought to reinstate the underlying suit. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that counsel's misconduct was not extrinsic fraud, which is required to vacate the dismissal. Further, "nearly three years had passed since her original claim had been dismissed, and nearly 14 months had passed since she learned of the dismissal....appellant must act expeditiously to vacate a judgment." The client had a duty to keep herself informed about the progress of her case. (Mike Frisch)