N.H.: Underlying Employment Litigation
Student Contributor: Jason W. Hake
Facts: A former client commenced a legal malpractice action against the law firm that had previously represented him against a bank. Although the law firm had facilitated a settlement agreement in the underlying litigation, the former client alleged that the loss of his health insurance coverage under the settlement agreement was due to the law firm’s negligence in negotiating and attempting to have the settlement agreement enforced. In particular, the former client had expressed concerns over certain language and ambiguities in the agreement and believed that he and his family would be provided with free medical insurance until he reached the age of sixty-five (65) under the same. However, when the law firm had attempted to enforce the settlement agreement, the Court held that the bank could require the former client to pay a portion of his own medical insurance premiums. Although the client was notified in 1991 that he would be required to pay a portion of his own medical insurance premiums, he waited until 1994 to commence a legal malpractice action against his former attorneys. The trial court determined that the former client’s claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and the former client appealed.
Issue: Was the former client’s legal malpractice claims barred by the applicable statute of limitations?
Ruling: Yes. The former client’s claims that arose from the date of the settlement in 1998 were barred by the applicable six-year statute of limitations found in the pre-1986 New Hampshire statute. The latest possible date for the accrual of the former client’s claims was when he was advised that he would have to pay a portion of his medical insurance premiums. However, this claim was barred by the amended three-year statute of limitations found in the applicable amended New Hampshire statute. As a result, the determination of the trial court was affirmed.
Lesson: This is a basic statute of limitations scenario. Do not rely upon ambiguities in the law to bolster your time to commence an action. Seek legal assistance as soon as you feel you have been wronged.