Legal malpractice claims in Louisiana are governed by a peremption period that cannot be interrupted or suspended. La. R.S. 9:5605(A) provides that a legal malpractice claim must be brought one year from the date of the alleged malpractice, or within one year from the date the alleged malpractice should have been discovered. However, even when a claim is filed within one year of discovery, it must be filed within three years of the date of the alleged malpractice. If a party fails to assert a legal malpractice claim before the peremption period expires, the right to bring the claim is lost.
The Louisiana Supreme Court holds that “peremption commences to run in a legal malpractice case when a claimant knew or should have known of the existence of facts that would have enabled him to state a cause of action for legal malpractice.” In Crosby v. Waits, Emmett, Popp & Teich, LLC, the court recently examined the types of circumstances that should inform a plaintiff that an act of alleged malpractice occurred, which would trigger the peremptive period in which the plaintiff’s claim must be filed.
The plaintiff in Crosby owned 75% of a company and was in the process of buying out the minority stakeholder. The company was involved in litigation at the time. Initially, the minority stakeholder maintained all of the recovery and risk related to the suit. In April 2016, an attorney advised the plaintiff to accept an offer to split the recovery and risk in the suit 50/50 as part of the sale. The plaintiff then accepted the 50/50 offer. The litigation concluded after the sale, in February 2018, and resulted in an adverse judgment for which the plaintiff was responsible pursuant to the 50/50 agreement.
The plaintiff filed suit on February 12, 2019, within one year of the verdict in the underlying litigation, and claimed that its attorney committed malpractice when he advised that plaintiff accept the offer to split the recovery and risk in the suit. Specifically, it was alleged the attorney failed to examine the nature of the litigation or discover that the seller’s employees were aware the suit bore serious risk. The plaintiff’s representative testified that he did not keep track of the litigation and therefore could not have known the attorney engaged in the alleged malpractice until the jury rendered its verdict in the underlying suit.
However, the minority stakeholder testified that he knew the 50/50 offer was a bad deal for the plaintiff. Another employee testified he thought the risk of loss in the underlying suit was apparent to everyone involved. The court agreed. Based upon the evidence presented, “it should have been obvious to all concerned that the 50/50 option was favorable” to the minority stakeholder, who was adverse to the plaintiff’s interest.
The court held that the plaintiff should have known its attorney may have committed an act of malpractice when he advised it to accept the 50/50 split before the underlying litigation concluded. Accordingly, suit was not filed within one year of when the plaintiff should have known the alleged act of malpractice occurred. The plaintiff’s claims that it lacked such knowledge could not stand up to conflicting evidence. Thus, the claim was peremepted, and the plaintiff’s suit was dismissed.
Crosby v. Waits, Emmett, Popp & Teich, LLC, 2022-0395 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/21/22), 352 So. 3d 145.
Jenkins v. Starns, 2011-1170, p. 15 (La. 1/24/12), 85 So.3d 612, 621.