WV: Torts – Products Liability
Facts: Clients brought legal malpractice action against attorney who acted as local counsel in products liability litigation. Plaintiffs were involved in a car accident in West Virginia on June 3, 1991. In 1993 plaintiffs filed action against Michelin Tire Corp. (Michelin). At the time, plaintiffs lived in Ohio and were represented by Sipe, an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio. The suit was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice. In 1995 Plaintiff reinstituted litigation in West Virginia. Sipe had approached Lantz (defendant) who was to act as local counsel. Sipe provided Lantz with a draft of the complaint. The two attorneys discussed the timeliness of the complaint and Sipe indicated that he intended to rely upon the Ohio savings statute. Lantz was never asked to render an opinion regarding whether the complaints would be timely filed under West Virginia law. However, Sipe testified that he would have expected Lantz to bring to his attention any obvious statute of limitations defects. Lantz did not participate in the decision not to file in Ohio. After the action was filed, Michelin moved for summary judgment on the ground that the action was barred because the requisite statute of limitations had expired and motion was granted. Appellants subsequently filed an action against attorneys alleging profession negligence and breach of contract. Lantz moved to dismiss arguing that the statute of limitation had already run in West Virginia prior to his participation in the case. Summary judgment was granted and Plaintiff appeals.
1. Whether Lantz was vicariously liable for the malpractice of the Ohio lawyer based on his association with them?
2. Whether Lantz breached his duty when he failed to alert Sipe of the statute of limitation problem presented in filing in West Virginia?
1. No. Local counsel was not vicariously liable for Ohio lawyer’s conduct based on joint venture theory.
2. No. Local counsel did not have a duty to determine whether clients were time-barred in West Virginia.
Acting as local counsel in case underlying clients’ legal malpractice action is not always sufficient to constitute an express or implied agreement to form a joint venture.