Legal Malpractice Claim Against Medicaid Planning Attorney Is Barred by Statute of Limitations

A Missouri court of appeals holds that the statute of limitations bars a legal malpractice claim against a Medicaid planning attorney whose advice led to guardianship proceeding and a claim against the Medicaid recipient’s estate. Duvall v. Yungwirth (Mo. Ct. App., No. WD83645, Nov. 10, 2020).

In 2002, Mildred Ruth Duvall hired attorney Joseph Yungwirth to conduct Medicaid planning. Mr. Yungwirth established a trust for Ms. Duvall, with her nephew, Lynn Duvall, as trustee. Mr. Yungwirth also recommended that Ms. Duvall transfer all of her assets to Mr. Duvall and his wife in exchange for a 98 percent interest in the Duvall’s home. After Ms. Duvall began receiving Medicaid benefits, the state got a tip that the Duvalls were financially exploiting Ms. Duvall and requested that a guardian be appointed. In the guardianship proceeding in 2004, the judge expressed concerns with Mr. Yungwirth’s advice, calling it “gross negligence,” and appointed a public guardian. The Duvalls’ attorney for the guardianship proceeding demanded payment for legal fees from Mr. Yungwirth, but Mr. Yungwirth refused. As a result of the guardianship proceeding, a legal newspaper published an article about the Duvalls, and Mr. Duvall said he lost business because of it.

After Ms. Duvall died in 2005, the state filed a claim against her estate to recover Medicaid benefits. Eventually, in 2013, the Duvalls were found to be liable to Ms. Duvall’s estate and settled the claim. The Duvalls then filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Mr. Yungwirth. Mr. Yungwirth filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the five-year statute of limitations had passed. The trial court granted Mr. Yungwirth summary judgment, and the Duvalls appealed, arguing that the statute of limitations didn’t begin to run until they settled the claim involving Ms. Duvall’s estate.

The Missouri Court of Appeals affirms, holding that the statute of limitations bars the Duvalls’ legal malpractice lawsuit. According to the court, “given that [the Duvalls] had suffered substantial damages stemming from [Mr.] Yungwirth’s alleged negligence, and were plainly on notice that their financial losses may be attributable to [Mr.] Yungwirth’s actions, the accrual of the Duvalls’ causes of action was not postponed until a settlement was reached in the probate litigation, finally determining the full extent of their damages.”

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