Client's action against former lawyer statute barred

A woman who claimed she missed the limitations deadline for launching a solicitor’s negligence action because of the “mental and emotional distress” caused by the lawyer’s representation of her in a family law dispute has had her claim dismissed.

According to Ontario Superior Court Justice Sidney Lederman’s Nov. 10 decision in  Soteropoulos v. Charles, Michael Charles represented Vasiliki Soteropoulos in family law litigation between 2006 and 2008, before Soteropoulos retained a new lawyer in August 2008.

Charles acted for Soteropoulos in an unsuccessful mediation, which was followed by an adverse arbitration award as well as a costs order against her. The arbitration was unsuccessfully appealed and in April 2008, Charles suggested his client find a new lawyer.

Soteropoulos claimed the mental distress caused by the lost appeal rendered her unable to effectively consult with a new lawyer until early 2009. In March of that year, her new lawyer told her she might have a case against Charles. By that time, her ex-husband was threatening to stop support payments, a move the original arbitrator granted in May 2009. Another appeal was later abandoned on the advice of the new lawyer, according to Lederman’s decision.

Soteropoulos made a complaint about Charles to the Law Society of Upper Canada in January 2010 after an initial review of her file. But in her statement of claim, filed in May 2011, she said that it wasn’t until October or November of 2010 that she could “fully appreciate the nature and extent of the defendant’s negligence and the damage done to her,” due to the precariousness of her mental and emotional state. She blamed her former lawyer for the adverse results, alleging he failed to follow her instructions in the mediation and arbitration.

Despite her claim not to fully appreciate her situation, Lederman found that the limitation began to run in March 2009 when Soteropoulos “had knowledge of the material facts on which the claim would be based following the advice she was given by her new counsel.” That meant her filing in May 2011 came two months too late, and the claim was statue barred. Charles was also awarded $3,000 costs on a partial indemnity basis.

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