Fraud Claim Knocked Out by Statute of Limitations for Negligence Actions

A Swedish law firm has failed in its effort to sue a director of a former client for “misrepresentation” in Virginia federal court after the court ruled the claim was barred by Virginia’s two-year statute of limitations applicable to negligence claims. The law firm had conceded that it would be unable to maintain a cause of action for fraud under the laws of Virginia, and the court opted to analyze the viability of the claim as a negligence action.

The law firm, Andersson Gustafsson Advokatbyra KB, sued eSCRUB Systems, Inc., a Virginia company, and three people associated with the company, claiming that eSCRUB had failed to pay the firm’s legal bills after it hired the law firm in 2007 to help it resolve a dispute. The law firm alleged that John Packard, a former director of eSCRUB, committed fraud in that he breached a “continuing obligation to notify Andersson of the risks of non-payment it ran in performing services for eSCRUB.” The allegation was essentially that Packard was part of a scheme to induce the law firm to provide legal services to eSCRUB with the full knowledge that the company would never pay the firm’s legal fees.

In Virginia, negligence claims carry a two-year statute of limitations. Virginia follows the general rule that the event that starts the limitations clock ticking is the negligent act itself. There is no “discovery exception” that starts the clock at a later date,Hourglass.jpg such as the date the plaintiff actually discovers that the alleged negligence occurred or that he has been damaged. Statutes of limitation can expire before a potential plaintiff even learns of the grounds for a lawsuit.

The judge found that the alleged injury occurred in December 2007, when the law firm’s invoices first came due and eSCRUB refused to pay. The law firm contended that the injury occurred even earlier, in November 2007, when the law firm first started working for eSCRUB. The judge said that an alternative date would be May 8, 2008, when the law firm terminated its services to eSCRUB. But any of those dates are more than two years before the lawsuit was filed on June 8, 2010, so the claim was deemed time-barred and the court entered summary judgment for the defendant.

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