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CT: Lawyer Had No Continuing Duty to Warn

Robbins v. McGuinness, 178 Conn. 258, 423 A.2d 897 (Conn. 1979)

CT: Underlying real estate matter

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: The client entered into a contract to purchase land in 1966. The client hired a lawyer to represent him in all aspects relating to the land purchase. The land conveyed was said to contain approximately 9.5 acres. In 1971, the lawyer bought land north of the client’s property. The survey indicated that the land to be bought included about 4.5 acres of the previous client’s land. However, by various transactions, the title to the land bought in 1966 came into the ownership of the client. The client then filed a legal malpractice action in 1972 for negligence and breach of contract. The case was dismissed for failure to meet the statute of limitations. The client also instituted an action to establish boundary lines. That action showed that the plaintiff had received 9.04 acres, which was within the amount of land he bargained for in 1966. The client now seeks to recover his expenses from the prior action that proved that the lawyer was not in error in the title search or description. The client alleges that the lawyer had a continuing duty to warn him that there might have been an issue with the boundary lines of his land.

Issue: Does the continuing duty to warn rule apply to this case in order to overcome the tolling of the statute of limitations?

Ruling: No. The continuing duty to warn rule provides that the statute of limitations may be extended if the lawyer continually failed to notify the client that there was some question about where the boundary line lay and the amount of land transferred. In this case, the negligence claims all pertained to the completed act of the title search that occurred on or before December 16, 1966. Thus, the allegations do not reasonably include claims of continuing conduct on the part of the lawyer after the title search. The continuing duty to warn rule does not apply here because after the property purchase was made, a warning that the boundary was indefinite or that the amount of land was inaccurate would not have affected anything.

Lesson: The client’s breach of contract claim would also fail under the continuing duty to warn rule. Again, since the indefinite or inaccurate title search could not have affected anything, the lawyer had no continuing duty to the client after the transfer of property. Since the lawyer had completed the task for which he was hired (conducting the title search), and had no continuing duty, the breach of contract claim will fail as well. 

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Posted in: Connecticut, Real Estate