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Protecting client interests includes meeting legal deadlines

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2023 | Duty of Care, Expert Witnesses, Statute of Limitations, Trial Errors |

Few legal matters are without deadlines. Both in and out of court, an attorney’s duty of care to their clients includes completing filing, notice, service and other legal acts on time in accord with required legal deadlines. The most obvious example is missing the statute of limitations – the legal deadline for filing a lawsuit. Failure to do so can result in significant financial and other kinds of harm to clients.

We have previously talked about this topic in detail, but a recent case exemplifies how a client can lose out. And for the lawyer, negligently missing a client deadline can result in deep legal malpractice liability, depending on the nature of the lost interest or compromised as a result.

In a missed-deadline scenario, the attorney may not have had the experience required to understand the requirement or may not have allowed time to conduct sufficient research or consultation to raise their awareness. Or the law firm may have had an inadequate tickler system or scheduling software to sufficiently alert the lawyer to the deadline.

Legal negligence in medical malpractice cases

To shield busy doctors and other medical professionals from frivolous suits and to preserve court resources, many states have passed laws that require medical malpractice victims to provide evidence early in a lawsuit that the claim has serious underpinnings.

This can be in the form of an affidavit filed with the court containing an expert medical opinion that the physician-defendant’s negligence caused resulting harm to the patient-plaintiff and detailing that injury. Or the law may require the plaintiff to provide notice of their expert witnesses with their qualifications and expected testimony by a certain date.

If the patient’s legal counsel fails to prepare and file the required proofs in a timely manner, negative consequences could include dismissal or loss of the right to present certain evidence at trial.

Case dismissed when attorneys filed affidavit four months late

The Sioux City (Iowa) Journal recently described a classic case of negligently missing a filing deadline. The mishap occurred in an Iowa medical malpractice case against the plaintiff’s plastic surgeon (and his employer) who allegedly “botched” her surgery, resulting in infection, hospitalization and reparative surgery. She also alleged permanent disfigurement, and pain and suffering.

The court dismissed the medical malpractice case for failure to file a required affidavit on time, a dismissal upheld on appeal.

The plaintiff understandably filed a legal malpractice case against her previous medical malpractice attorneys, alleging that they breached their duty of ordinary care when they filed her “certificate of merit affidavit for their expert witness” 136 days late. For having lost her right to litigate her medical malpractice case, she sought from her former lawyers all the damages originally requested from the doctor plus legal fees.

The plaintiff included in the suit a claim for negligent misrepresentation based on the original law firm’s website that held them out as experienced and competent health care lawyers. Various states’ laws may provide additional claims in legal malpractice scenarios.

A legal malpractice lawyer can provide analysis, guidance and representation.