Missing a filing date can terminate your legal rights.
Missed deadlines are one of the most frequent grounds for legal malpractice. Should an attorney really be sued just because he or she didn’t file paperwork by some arbitrary date?
Yes, if missing a deadline resulted in irreversible harm to the client. In many cases, such as a statute of limitations, failing to file the lawsuit or other court documents by a specific date can nullify the plaintiff’s rights. Permanently.
Deadlines are a frequent basis for lawyer malpractice lawsuits
The American Bar Association keeps track of the top reasons for legal malpractice claims. The number one complaint in malpractice lawsuits is failure to know or apply the correct law when representing a client. Other common reasons include legal planning errors, inadequate investigation, fraud, and conflicts of interest.
But according to ABA statistics, deadlines (statutory or court-imposed) figure into about one-fourth of all malpractice claims:
- Failure to Know Deadline (7 percent) – The lawyer was unaware of a deadline or miscalculated the deadline.
- Failure to Calendar Properly (7 percent) – The lawyer was aware of a deadline but did not act.
- Failure to React to Calendar (4 percent) – The lawyer did not take action by a properly calendared date.
- Procrastination (6 percent) – The lawyer may have initiated action but failed to follow up in timely fashion.
Failure to file documents when there is no formal deadline make up another 9 percent of complaints.
There must be both a missed deadline and adverse consequences
Legal malpractice, like medical malpractice, works on a “no harm, no foul” basis. Merely missing a deadline is not necessarily malpractice if it causes no serious or irreparable harm to the client’s case. It becomes malpractice when the attorney’s error or omission costs the plaintiff some tangible loss.
For example, our law firm once obtained a $600,000 jury verdict for legal malpractice on behalf of a client. The original attorney in their personal injury lawsuit, by missing deadlines, failed to preserve their right to sue the liable party. Their case was dismissed with no legal recourse. The jury's award reflected the project value of their case, plus attorney fees for having to hire new counsel.
So there must be a missed deadline, a financial loss AND evidence that the plaintiff most likely would have won their case if not for the attorney’s error or incompetence. Legal malpractice is complex and requires representation by a lawyer with extensive experience in this niche area of the law.