Legal malpractice opinion addresses superseding cause in Virginia
In Williams v. Joynes, 278 Va 57, 677 S.E.2d 261 (2009), the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the Circuit Court's ruling that plaintiff's failure to file a personal injury action in a foreign jurisdiction was a superseding event sufficient to sever the link of proximate causation between the defendants' failure to timely file a personal injury action in Virginia and the plaintiff's loss of his personal injury claim.
The personal injury action arose out of an automobile accident that occurred when a truck driven by a Maryland resident hit a car driven by a Virginia resident and caused that car to hit the plaintiff. The defendant attorneys were retained to file the personal injury action, but failed to do so within Virginia's two year statute of limitations. The malpractice action arose as a result of the defendant attorneys' failure to timely file the Virginia personal injury action.
The defendant attorneys notified the plaintiff that he should find a Maryland attorney to advise him as to whether he could file a Maryland action against the Maryland resident based on the three year statute of limitations. Plaintiff was unable to find an attorney to take the Maryland case because of proof problems arising out of the fact that Maryland had no subpoena power over the Virginia witnesses.
The Circuit Court held that Williams' decision not to file suit in Maryland was an intervening act that severed any connection between the negligent act of the defendants and the loss claimed by plaintiff.
The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed on the grounds that the plaintiff's intervening act was set in motion by the defendant attorney's failure to timely file the action in Virginia. The Court stated that an intervening act will never be deemed a superseding cause if the intervening act was set in motion by the initial tortfeasor's negligence.
Additionally, the Court found that the Circuit Court failed to consider that, as a result of the defendant attorneys' negligence, the plaintiff had forever lost his claim against the Virginia resident who could not be sued in Maryland.
Posted by Sara Allenson on 09/05/2009 at 06:54 PM