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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Raynell Hill’s daughter, Randina Raye Burleson, lived with Hill’s sister, Jo Collinsworth, and Jo’s husband, Jerry Collinsworth. On the night of Dec. 25, 1999, Burleson was in a car driven by Chad McKinley Bartlette, who fell asleep and crashed the car. Burleson died a few hours later. Jerry had insurance on the car that Bartlette was driving. Jerry’s insurer, Texas Farmers Insurance Co., hired a firm in anticipation of claims against Jerry and Bartlette. The firm assigned the case to Todd Lessert. Lessert contacted Jo and prepared documents so that Jo could serve as temporary administrator of Burleson’s estate. Around Nov. 2, 2001, Lessert contacted Hill to ask her to sign a waiver of service, which included an approval of Jo’s appointment, and which she did sign on Jan. 3, 2002. On May 24, Jo signed a settlement that released Jerry, Bartlette and the insurer from all claims related to Burleson’s death, and Texas Farmers issued a check to Jo for $25,000. Jo and Hill could not agree on how the money should be distributed. Hill filed a wrongful death suit against Bartlette in 2003, three-and-a-half years after Burleson’s death. The trial court granted Bartlette’s motion for summary judgment. Hill contends on appeal that equitable estoppel should prevent Bartlette from asserting a statute-of-limitations defense. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court says the issue in this case is unique: The insurer paid the amount promised, but Hill claims she would have timely filed suit if not misled by Lessert, the insurer’s attorney. She claims she established an attorney-client relationship with Lessert. The court finds that equitable estoppel applies only when a party refuses to do what he or she has a duty to do. Therefore, in this case, equitable estoppel applies only if Lessert and Hill had an attorney-client relationship. The court says there is no evidence that an attorney-client relationship existed between Lessert and Hill. Furthermore, any alleged misrepresentations made by Lessert on which Hill could have relied to her detriment must have occurred before Dec. 26, 2001, which is the end of the standard limitations period after the accident. The only communication before Dec. 26, 2001, is when Lessert called Hill on Nov. 2 about signing the waiver. The court looks at the content of the letter that Lessert sent, memorializing the telephone conversation. Despite Hill’s insistence that she believed Lessert was her attorney, there is no evidence of a discussion or agreement on fees or the nature of work to be done. Further, Hill never asked Lessert to be her attorney, and Lessert never told Hill that he was. Hill’s mistaken impression that Lessert was her attorney is not sufficient by itself to create an attorney-client relationship. The court also rejects Hill’s contention that Lessert made a misrepresentation on Nov. 2 when he told her that she would receive settlement proceeds. If Hill did not receive any of the $25,000 settlement, it was because of the impasse between her and Jo, not because the insurer did not pay or that Lessert failed to deliver. The court adds that the use of Jo as the temporary administrator is a type of legal process that could be used. “Even if that decision is not particularly astute, as Hill suggests, it does not amount to a false representation,” the court says. Because Hill failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the element of equitable estoppel, summary judgment was properly granted based on Bartlette’s assertion of a defense of statute of limitations. Finally, the court holds that as temporary administrator, Jo had the authority to settle the claim against Bartlette. Consequently, the payment of the $25,000 settlement was an accord and satisfaction of her claims, regardless of whether Hill signed the settlement or not. OPINION:Ross, J.; Morriss, CJ, Ross and Carter, JJ. CONCURRENCE:Carter, J. The concurrence says it is concerned with the statement that the order granting the temporary administrator the authority to settle the claim on behalf of the estate and heirs was sufficient to give her the right to settle the claim. “I agree that the representative had, by court order, the authority to represent the estate and heirs of the deceased in this case, but once she had negotiated a proposed settlement, she was required to file a written application and to obtain an order from the probate court authorizing her to settle the suit.”

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