final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Barbara
Areces, Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 14-23500
Freeborn and Peters LLP, and Lawrence P. Ingram and Robert
Stines (Tampa), for appellants Jason Weisser, Esq., et al.;
Wasson & Associates, Chartered, and Roy D. Wasson, for
appellant Paulo Vasallo.
Glasser Park & Lowe, P.L., and Robert M. Klein, Andrew M.
Feldman, and Alex A. Diaz for appellees.
ROTHENBERG, C.J., and FERNANDEZ and LUCK, JJ.
this legal malpractice case, defendants Jason Weisser, Esq.,
and Schuler, Halvorson, Weisser, Zoeller, and Overbeck, P.A.
(collectively, "the Shuler Defendants"), and the
plaintiff below, Paulo Vasallo ("Vasallo"), appeal
a final summary judgment entered in favor of defendants
Richard Dolan, Esq. ("Mr. Dolan"), and other
associated defendants (collectively, "the Dolan
Defendants"). Because the undisputed material facts
entitled the Dolan Defendants to a judgment as a matter of
law, we find that the trial court properly entered final
summary judgment in favor of the Dolan Defendants, and thus,
fell while pressure washing a roof in San Juan, Puerto Rico,
on October 4, 2011, rendering him a paraplegic. Vasallo
retained the Dolan Defendants on August 8, 2012 to pursue his
personal injury action against the homeowners. Mr. Dolan sent
a letter to the homeowners' insurance company on
September 11, 2012, stating that he represented Vasallo in
connection with a claim for personal injuries and requested
information relating to the homeowners' insurance policy.
Mr. Dolan sent two similar letters on November 15, 2012 and
April 11, 2013.
January 10, 2014, over two years after the accident, Mr.
Dolan sent a letter to Vasallo informing him that: (1) the
Dolan Defendants would no longer represent him; (2) the Dolan
Defendants learned in September 2013, that Puerto Rico had a
one-year personal injury statute of
limitations; and (3) Vasallo should seek legal advice
from another attorney.
terminating his representation of Vasallo, Mr. Dolan received
a letter from the Schuler Defendants on January 29, 2014,
informing him that Vasallo had retained the Schuler
Defendants to file a legal malpractice claim against the
Dolan Defendants. On June 18, 2014, the Schuler Defendants,
however, sent a letter to Vasallo informing him that the
Schuler Defendants would not pursue a legal malpractice
action against the Dolan Defendants because there was no
evidence of a viable negligence claim against the homeowners,
and thus, the Shuler defendants were terminating their
representation of Vasallo.
Vasallo hired new counsel and filed a legal malpractice suit
against the Dolan Defendants for negligently permitting the
statute of limitations on his personal injury action in
Puerto Rico to lapse. The Dolan Defendants moved for summary
judgment, arguing that, as a matter of law, they did not
cause any of Vasallo's damages because, as a result of
the letters Mr. Dolan had sent to the homeowners'
insurer, the statute of limitations had been tolled and had
not run during their representation of Vasallo. The Dolan
Defendants relied on the following tolling provision under
Puerto Rican law: "Prescription of actions is
interrupted by their institution before the courts, by
extrajudicial claim of the creditor, and by any act of
acknowledgment of the debt by the debtor." P.R. Laws
Ann. tit. 31, § 5303 (2011). Based on this tolling
provision, the Dolan Defendants argued that Mr. Dolan's
initial September 11, 2012 letter to the homeowners'
insurance company constituted an extrajudicial claim, which
tolled the one-year statute of limitations for an additional
year, and the subsequent letters further tolled the statute
of limitations until April 11, 2014.
the Dolan Defendants moved for summary judgment, Vasallo
amended his complaint to add the Schuler Defendants and to
assert a claim against them for legal malpractice.
Thereafter, the Schuler Defendants filed a memorandum in
opposition to the Dolan Defendants' motion for summary
judgment and a cross-motion for summary judgment as to
Vasallo's legal malpractice claim against the Schuler
conducting a hearing, the trial court found that the initial
September 11, 2012 letter sent by Mr. Dolan constituted an
extrajudicial claim, tolling the one-year statute of
limitations. In reaching this conclusion, the trial court
specifically relied on Sánchez Montalvo v.
Autoridad de los Puertos, 153 D.P.R. 559 (P.R. Offic.
Trans. 2001). In Sánchez Montalvo, an injured
claimant's lawyer sent a letter to a putative
defendant's liability insurer, which the Puerto Rico
Supreme Court found put the insured on notice of a potential
claim and extrajudicially tolled the one-year statute of
limitations period. Id. at 571. The trial court
determined that Mr. ...