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MI: Attorney's Attempts to Help Former Client Do Not Reset Statute of Limitations Clock That Started Ticking When the Representation Ended

Bauer v Ferriby & Houston, P.C., 235 Mich App 536, 599 NW2d 493 (Mich Ct App 1999)

MI: Labor law; workers compensation settlement; Social Security disability

Student Contributor: Tolu Akinsanya

Facts: Defendant represented the plaintiff in an underlying worker’s compensation case. The defendant settled the worker’s compensation claim for $85,000, and an order to that effect was entered on July 26, 1994. After the worker’s comp settlement, plaintiff engaged the services of another lawyer to represent him in his application for social security benefits. The new attorney, believing plaintiff could get more if the order entered in the worker’s comp case was different, asked the defendant to try to change the order in February 1996. Defendant attempted to amend the order but failed and plaintiff’s social security benefits were not enhanced. Plaintiff commenced this legal malpractice action on April 17, 1997, on the basis that defendant made a mistake in the worker’s comp order that cost him in the social security application. Defendant moved for summary disposition and the trial court granted the motion on the basis of  statute of limitations.

Issue(s): Does an attorney’s revisitation of a former client’s file have the effect of extending the statute of limitations?

Ruling(s): No, when a client retains a new attorney his relationship with a former attorney is terminated, but more importantly for this case, when a result sought after in the creation of the attorney client relationship is reached — an order is issued, the attorney-client relationship ends and the 2 year statute of limitations begins to run.  An attorney that revisits such a case almost 2 years later at the request of a subsequent attorney to help fix an alleged issue will not reset the statute of limitations clock.

Lesson: Courts may be willing to protect an attorney from legal malpractice who was only trying to zealously serve his client even after the attorney client relationship is ended. 

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Posted in: Michigan