CT: Underlying negligence case
Facts: In 1994, the clients hired the lawyer to help them recover money after the alleged negligent construction of an addition to their home. In 1995, the lawyer filed a complaint for the clients against the building contractor, the building engineer, and the town of Branford. Later that year, the lawyer no longer represented the clients. The clients were unsuccessful in their suit because the town engineer and the town claimed governmental immunity and the building contractor filed for bankruptcy. In 2001, the clients filed a legal malpractice complaint against the lawyer for negligence in failing to name the town building inspector as one of the defendants and failure to assert reckless and wanton disregard for health and safety in the complaint. The lawyer successfully moved for summary judgment on the grounds that §52-577 (the statute of limitations) barred the clients from suing her. The clients now appeal.
Issues: Does the statute of limitations prevent from bringing a legal malpractice claim against the lawyer? May the clients toll the statute of limitations claim under the doctrine of continuous representation?
Holding: Yes and no. §52-577 provides that “no action founded upon a tort shall be brought but within three years from the date of the act or omission complained of.” Since the clients did not file the suit until more than four years after the alleged negligence conduct of the lawyer, they are time barred by the statute of limitations. The continuous representation rule provides that clients may toll the statute of limitations upon a showing that (1) the lawyer continued to represent them with regard to the same underlying matter and (2) either that the client was unaware of the alleged malpractice or the lawyer could still diminish the harm caused by that malpractice during the continued representation period. DeLeo v. Nusbaum, 263 Conn. App. 588, 821 A.2d 744 (2003). Since the lawyer ceased representation of the clients, they have failed the first prong of the continuous representation test and may not toll the statute of limitations.
Lesson: §52-577 is an “occurrence statute,” meaning that the time period within which a client must file a complaint begins at the exact time when the negligence complained of occurs, not the date when the client sustains damage. The “continuous representation” doctrine was established to ease the harsh consequences of the occurrence rule.