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IL: Statute of Limitations: Cause of Acton Accrues on Discovery

Kohler v. Hawkins, 15 Ill.App.3d 455, 304 N.E.2d 677(App. Ct. 1973)

IL. underlying tort action

Student contributor: Cheryl Neuman

Facts: Two men were killed a car accident. Their estates hired defendant attorney in an action against the driver of the car in which the two men were killed. The defendants filed demands for arbitration and the arbitration hearings were held and damages were awarded. The award was subsequently vacated because the demand for arbitration was not filed within two years of the death of the decedents as required by the Injuries Act (Ill.Rev.Stat. 1965, ch. 70, pars. 1 and 2.). After the denial of a petition for leave to appeal, the defendants told the administrators of the estates that there would not be any recovery. The administrators then filed a complaint against the defendants alleging that the defendants were negligent and carelessly filed the demand for arbitration after the two year statutory allowance, thereby causing the administrators and heirs of the decedents the lost value of the arbitrator’s award. The defendants contend, however, that the statute of limitations has run and the plaintiffs can no longer sue them for a legal malpractice action.

Issue: Whether the statute of limitations for legal malpractice commences at the time of the negligent act or when the client discovers or should discover the facts establishing the elements of his cause of action?

Ruling: The cause of action for legal malpractice does not accrue until the client discovers or should have discovered the facts establishing the elements of his cause of action. Therefore, the complaint for legal malpractice was timely filed in this case. The statute of limitations did not begin to run until the administrators of the estates were advised by the defendant that they wouldn’t be able to recover in the underlying suit. Complaints filed within 5 years from that date were considered proper and timely filed.

Lesson: It is unrealistic and unfair to bar a negligently injured party’s cause of action before he had an opportunity to discover that it exists. The court reasoned that a client may not realize the negligence of an attorney when it occurs and to require a professional to check the work of the attorney would be impractical and would destroy the confidential relationship between attorney and client.

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Posted in: Illinois, Statute of Limitations, Torts/Personal Injury