Friday, September 11, 2015

Not Too Late To Sue For Legal Malpractice

Defendants in a legal malpractice claim were not entitled to judgment on statute of limitations grounds, according to a recent opinion of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The court overruled prior precedent that started the running of the statute 

In this legal malpractice case, Stokes-Craven Holding Corporation d/b/a Stokes-Craven Ford ("Stokes-Craven") appeals the circuit court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Scott L. Robinson and his law firm, Johnson, McKenzie & Robinson, L.L.C., (collectively "Respondents") based on the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations. Stokes-Craven contends the court erred in applying this Court's decision in Epstein v. Brown, 363 S.C. 372, 610 S.E.2d 816 (2005), and holding that Stokes-Craven knew or should have known that it had a legal malpractice claim against its trial counsel and his law firm on the date of the adverse jury verdict rather than after this Court affirmed the verdict and issued the remittitur in Austin v. Stokes-Craven Holding Corp., 387 S.C. 22, 691 S.E.2d 135 (2010). We overrule Epstein, reverse the circuit court's order, and remand the matter to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion...

We overrule Epstein and now hold that the statute of limitations for a legal malpractice action may be tolled until resolution on appeal of the underlying case if the client has not become aware of the injury prior to the decision on appeal. We find this rule comports with the discovery rule and effectuates the purpose of the statute of limitations. Because the circuit court relied upon Epstein to hold that the statute of limitations began to run on the day of the jury's verdict, we reverse the court's grant of summary judgment without prejudice to either party's right to move for this relief under our newly announced statute of limitations standard for legal malpractice suits. Additionally, we find the circuit court abused its discretion in denying Stokes-Craven's motion to compel the production of communications between Respondents and their malpractice carrier because there was no evidence to support the court's ruling.

Chief Justice Toal dissented

In determining when the statute of limitations period commences for legal malpractice actions, the majority adopts a subjective standard that is dependent on whether "the client has [] become aware of the injury prior to the decision on appeal." Because the General Assembly explicitly provided for an objective standard, rather than the majority's new subjective standard, I write separately.

The Chief Justice was joined by Justice Kittredge. (Mike Frisch)

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