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Law School Case Brief

Laird v. Blacker - 2 Cal. 4th 606, 7 Cal. Rptr. 2d 550, 828 P.2d 691 (1992)

Rule:

Once a client has been injured by an adverse judgment, the limitations period for filing a legal malpractice action commences and is not tolled by filing an appeal absent continuous representation by the trial attorney. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.6(a)(2). This continuous representation rule was adopted in order to avoid the disruption of an attorney-client relationship by a lawsuit while enabling the attorney to correct or minimize an apparent error, and to prevent an attorney from defeating a malpractice cause of action by continuing to represent the client until the statutory period has expired. The limitations period should not be extended beyond final judgment when continuous representation was not an issue.

Facts:

Plaintiff Jeri Emmet Laird, a television writer, brought a legal malpractice action against a law firm she had retained to prosecute a lawsuit in which she alleged that a television production company ("Company") based a television series on a script she had submitted, but failed to acknowledge or credit her contribution. That suit was dismissed for failure to prosecute. Acting in propria persona, Lairs appealed the dismissal of the underlying action and voluntarily dismissed the appeal upon settling the Company in that action. Laird's malpractice action was brought 19 months after the underlying action was dismissed, 17 months after she discharged defendant attorneys, but only 8 months after she dismissed her appeal. Defendants moved for nonsuit on the ground of the running of the one-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice actions. The trial court denied defendants' motion, and the jury awarded laird $ 1.7 million. The appellate court reversed and remanded with directions to enter judgment in favor of defendants. The appellate court held that under section 340.6, subdivision (a), Laird sustained actual injury on Dec. 7, 1981, when she discharged her attorneys after her case was dismissed and judgment was entered against her, and thus, her claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Laird appealed.

Issue:

Under the Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6(a), was the one-year statute of limitations for attorney malpractice actions tolled if a client appealed from the underlying judgment on which the claim of malpractice was based?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court held that the limitations period of Code Civ. Proc. section 340.6 commenced when a client suffered an adverse judgment or order of dismissal in the underlying action on which the malpractice action was based. In the case at bar, the court averred that Laird sustained actual injury when the trial court dismissed her underlying action and she was compelled to incur legal costs and expenditures in pursuing an appeal, and that the limitations period was not tolled pending an appeal of the adverse judgment or dismissal, and thus, the Laird's suit was barred by a one-year statute of limitations under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code section 340.6.

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