Legal Memorandum: Expert Testimony in a Legal Malpractice Case

Issue: Is expert testimony is required in a legal malpractice case to show that the defendant breached the standard of care by failing to inform the client of the statute of limitations before declining the representation?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Expert testimony; Legal malpractice
Jurisdiction: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Cited Cases: 520 N.W.2d 406; 4 Ill. Dec. 644; 323 Wis. 2d 822; 360 N.E.2d 580; 781 N.W.2d 550
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2013

While it may be common knowledge that allowing the statute of limitations to expire on a valid claim is a breach of the standard of care, expert testimony is generally required to prove that the expired claim was indeed valid. 

In House v. Maddox, 46 Ill. App. 3d 68, 4 Ill. Dec. 644, 360 N.E.2d 580 (1977), the court noted that expert testimony is not required to prove that the failure to comply with the statute of limitations violated an attorney’s standard of care, but referenced several situations in which this is true.

“Where no issue is raised as to defendant’s responsibility for allowing the statute of limitations to run, where the negligence of defendant is apparent and undisputed, and where the record discloses obvious and explicit carelessness in defendant’s failure to meet the duty of care owed by him to plaintiff, the court will not require expert testimony to define further that which is already abundantly clear.”

Koeller v. Reynolds, 344 N.W.2d 556 (Iowa Ct. App. 1983).  “Koeller contends that Reynolds’ failure to take any action in filing suit before the statute of limitations had run and failure to inform Koeller of the two-year limit were plain shortcomings which would be obvious to laymen.  Reynolds testified that he did not believe that maintaining an action in Koeller’s case would be just.  Consequently, we do not have a situation where malpractice is clear and obvious or where the lawyer’s shortcomings would be […]

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