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NY: Proving Proximate Cause in Underlying Criminal Defense Malpractice

Daly v. Peace,54 A.D.3d 801, 863 N.Y.S.2d 770, 2008 N.Y. Slip Op. 06955

NY Underlying defense of criminal  action

Student Contributor: Angela M. Ignelzi

Facts: Plaintiff-Client brought an action against his Attorney who had represented him in defending a prior criminal action where he was convicted. Client sought to recover damages for legal malpractice. Attorney made a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the client could not prove he was innocent. Client appealed the dismissal of his Complaint.

Issue: Was the motion Court correct in dismissing the Client’s malpractice complaint?

Ruling: The Appellate Division (2nd Department), held that:

  •  Client could not establish his innocence of the underlying criminal charge
  •  Client has no cause of action for legal malpractice against his criminal defense attorney, unless he was ultimately successful in his attempts to have the underlying conviction reversed and he proves his innocence.

Lesson: To prove that his lawyer’s allegedly negligent conduct in defending him in an underlying criminal case was the proximate cause of his damage, i.e., his wrongful conviction, the client must have his conviction reversed and he must prove his innocence of the underlying criminal charges. 

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Posted in: Criminal Law, Litigation, New York, Proximate Cause