In ordinary negligence actions, a cause of action accrues for statute of limitations purposes at the time the injury actually occurs. However, in cases where the relationship between the fact of injury and some tortious conduct is obscure at the time of injury, the court applies the "discovery rule" to determine when the statute of limitations begins to run. Under this rule, a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff has knowledge of (or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have knowledge of) (1) the existence of the injury, (2) its cause in fact, and (3) some evidence of wrongdoing.
e beneficiary alleged that the lawyer's malpractice resulted in his father's will being invalidated by a Florida trial court. The beneficiary did not file his claim until after the Florida appeals court affirmed the invalidation. That was well over three years after the will was first challenged. The trial court dismissed the malpractice complaint as time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations set forth in D.C. Code Ann. § 12-301 (1981, Supp. 1988). The beneficiary appealed. The court rejected the beneficiary's contention that his cause of action did not accrue until the Florida appeals court resolved his appeal. The court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the beneficiary's legal malpractice action.
Did the trial court err in ruling that the three-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice in the drafting of a will does not begin to run until resolution of an appeal sustaining the trial court's invalidation of the will?
Applying the discovery rule, the court held that the attorney's fees and court costs incurred in defending the will and appealing its invalidation constituted sufficient injury for the statute of limitations to bar the legal malpractice action when the beneficiary knew, or had reason to know, of the attorney's alleged malpractice well over three years before he filed suit. The court affirmed the dismissal.