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DeVaux v. American Home Assurance Co.

444 N.E.2d 355 (1983)

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DeVaux v. American Home Assurance Co.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

444 N.E.2d 355 (1983)

Facts

Loretta DeVaux (plaintiff) fell while entering a store, injuring a spinal disc. DeVaux had previously worked with attorney Frank McGee (defendant) and called his office to get legal advice about the fall. McGee’s secretary told DeVaux to write a letter to McGee. The secretary also told DeVaux to write a letter to the store and arranged a medical exam for DeVaux. DeVaux wrote a letter asking McGee to give her legal advice and hand delivered it to the secretary. However, the secretary misfiled the letter, and McGee never saw it. Although DeVaux never visited McGee’s office to follow up, she occasionally called his office to ask about the matter. DeVaux was told that her calls would be returned, but they never were. Approximately three years after the fall, McGee discovered DeVaux’s letter. By that time, the statute of limitations had expired on DeVaux’s claim against the store. DeVaux filed a malpractice claim against McGee for missing the deadline. McGee’s insurance company, American Home Assurance Company (defendant), was added as a defendant. McGee moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that he had not formed an attorney-client relationship with DeVaux regarding the fall until he found the letter. Because McGee was not DeVaux’s attorney when the statute of limitations expired, McGee argued, he could not have committed malpractice by missing the deadline. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed DeVaux’s claim. DeVaux appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Abrams, J.)

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